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OUP 43 30-1-71 -5,000 


Call No. aVe>. I Accession No. 



This book should be returned on or befor 


Chancellor, The University of Chicago 

ZECHARIAH CHAFEE, JR., Vice-chairman 
Professor of Law, Harvard Univcisity 


Professor of Economics, Columbia 


Professor of Law, University of 
Pennsylvania, and General Coun- 
sel, Pennsylvania Railroad 


Professor of Philosophy, Emciitus, 
Harvard University 


Professor of Law, Yale University 


Formerly Assistant Secretary of 


Professor of Political Science, Emer- 
itus, The University of Chicago 


Professor of Ethics and Philosophy 
of Religion, Union Theological 


Professor of Anthropology, 'I he 
University of Chicago 


Chairman, Federal Restive. Bank 
of New York 


Professor of History, I^uvard Uni- 

Picsident, Hunter College 



Former General Manager, \Vaiti me 
Information Board, Canada 


Former Chinese Ambassadoi to the 
United States 

President, Free French School lor 
Advanced Studies 


Professor of Philosophy, New 
School foi Social Rcstauh 


ROBERT D. LEIGH, Director 
LLEWELLYN WHITE, Assistant Director 


* Dr. Hu Shih was unable to participate in the work of the Commission after 1^4. 
t M. Maritain resigned February, 1945, to become French ambassador to the Holy Sec. 



A General Report on Mass Communication: 

Newspapers, Radio, Motion Pictures, 

Magazines, and Books 

"If thejc is ever to be an amelioration of the condition of 
mankind, philosophers, tfieologianr, legislators, politicians and 
moralists will find that the regulation of the press is the most 
difficult, dangeious and important problem they have to resolve. 
Mankind cannot now bf governed-piliw^ it. na^^e m 
it." JOHN ADAMS to JAMES l)i.f|C &lto Wf A! 1 1 



The University of Chicago Press Chicago 37 

Agent: Cambridge University Press London 

Copyright 1947 by The University of Chicago. All rights 
reserved. Published 1947. Second impression 1947. Com- 
posed and printed by The University of Chicago Press 
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. 


IN DECEMBER, 1942, Henry R, Luce, of Time, 
Inc., suggested to me an inquiry into the present 
state and future prospects of the freedom of the 
press. A year later this commission, whose members 
were selected by me, began its deliberations. 

The inquiry was financed by grants of $200,000 
from Time, Inc., and $15,000 from Encyclopaedia 
Britannica, Inc. The money was disbursed through 
.the University of Chicago. Neither Time, Inc., En- 
cyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., nor the University of 
Chicago has had any control over or assumed any 
responsibility for the progress or the conclusions of 
the inquiry. 

At its first meeting the Commission decided to in- 
clude within its scope the major agencies of mass 
communication: the radio, newspapers, motion pic- 
tures, magazines, and books. Wherever the word 
"press" is used in the publications of the Commis- 
sion, it refers to all these media. 

The Commission did not conduct elaborate "re- 
search/* It sought facts to fill out gaps in its infor- 
mation or to answer questions which arose in the 
course of its discussions. In full session or in com- 
mittee the Commission has heard testimony from 
58 men and women connected with the press. The 
staff has recorded interviews with more than 225 

members of the industries, government, and private 
agencies concerned with the press. The Commission 
held 17 two-day or three-day meetings and studied 
176 documents prepared by its members or the staff. 

The Commission includes in this general report 
only so much factual description of the press as is 
necessary to understand its conclusions. At the risk 
of presenting here what may seem an elementary or 
oversimplified picture, the Commission refers the 
reader for more detailed information to the special 
studies mentioned below. 

Because of the present world crisis, the Commis- 
sion confined itself in this study to the role of the 
agencies of mass communication in the education 
of the people in public affairs. Another study could 
have been made dealing with the interrelationship 
between the American press and American culture. 
This would have analyzed the present state of Amer- 
ican culture and emphasized the dramatic change 
by which the agencies of mass communication have 
become a part of the American environment, affect- 
ing the thought and feeling of every citizen in every 
department of his life. 

This report deals with the responsibilities of the 
owners and managers of the press to their consciences 
and the common good for the formation of public 
opinion. It goes without saying that the responsibili- 
ties of the owners and managers of the press for 
American culture are as great as those outlined in 
this report. 


The Commission is aware that the agencies of mass 
communication are only one of the influences form- 
ing American culture and American public opinion. 
They are, taken together, however, probably the 
most powerful single influence today. The new in- 
struments at their disposal, which have not been ex- 
ploited by other agencies, such as the school and the 
church, are making them more powerful all the time. 
The inadequacy of other agencies has doubtless con- 
tributed to the rapid growth of the power of the 
press. I should say, for example, that if the schools 
did a better job of educating our people, the respon- 
sibility of the press to raise the level of American cul- 
ture, or even to supply our citizens with correct and 
full political, economic, and social information would 
be materially altered. By pointing out the obligations 
of the press, the Commission does not intend to ex- 
onerate other agencies from theirs. The relative 
power of the press carries with it relatively great 

Together with its interest in the flow of public in- 
formation, the Commission has been concerned 
about the flow of ideas. "Civilized society is a work-i 
ing system of ideas. It lives and changes by the con- 
sumption of ideas. Therefore, it must make sure that 
as many as possible of the ideas which its members 
have are available for its examination/' The Com- 
mission knows that one dreadful curse of contempo- 
rary life is the terrifying flood of words with which 
the agencies of mass communication threaten to 


inundate the citizen. Anybody with nothing to say 
can say it by mass communication if he has a know- 
ing press agent, or a considerable reputation, or an 
active pressure group behind him, whereas, even 
with such advantages, anybody with something to 
say has a hard time getting it said by mass communi- 
cation if it runs counter to the ideas of owners, edi- 
tors, opposing pressure groups, or popular prejudice. 
This report should not be taken as supporting the 
doctrine that the freedom of the press gives access 
to the agencies of mass communication, as a matter 
of right, or even of good public policy, to those who 
have nothing to say. The tremendous influence of 
the modern press makes it imperative that the great 
agencies of mass communication show hospitality to 
ideas which their owners do not share. Otherwise, 
these ideas will not have a fair chance. The Com- 
mission is interested in obtaining a hearing for ideas, 
not in adding to the confusion of tongues. 

The Commission's recommendations are not start- 
ling. The most surprising thing about them is that 
nothing more surprising could be proposed. The 
Commission finds that these things are all that can 
properly be done. It is of the utmost importance, 
then, that these things should actually be done and 
that the neglect of them, which now imperils the 
freedom of the press, should be replaced by a serious 
and continuing concern for the moral relation of the 
press to society. 


[ This general report is a collaborative enterprise: 
every line of it was hammered out in conference and 
correspondence^] The members of the Commission 
unanimously concur in the presentation and recom- 
mendations of the report, with the inevitable caveat 
that, if each were to employ his own language in- 
stead of speaking with a common voice, the tone and 
emphasis at this or that point might be somewhat 

In addition to this general report, the Commission 
has published, or will publish, through the University 
of Chicago Press, the following special studies : 

Freedom of the Press: A Framework of Principle by 

Government and Mass Communications by ZECHARIAH 


Freedom of the Movies by RUTH A. INGLIS 
Peoples Speaking to Peoples by LLEWELLYN WHITE and 


The American Radio by LLEWELLYN WHITE 
The American Press and the San Francisco Conference by 

MILTON D. STEWART, with an Introduction by HAROLD 


These special studies are sponsored and pub- 
lished by the Commission, but the members are not 
responsible for their contents beyond what may be 
said over their signatures in a preface or an intro- 
ductory statement to each study. 

December 10, 1946 




The Problem 1 

The Principles 6 

The Principles in the Present Situation 12 


A Truthful, Comprehensive, and Intelligent Ac- 
count of the Day's Events in a Context Which 
Gives Them Meaning . ... .21 

A Forum for the Exchange of Comment and 
Criticism . . .... .23 

The Projection of a Representative Picture of the 
Constituent Groups in the Society . .26 

The Presentation and Clarification of the Goals 
and Values of the Society . . 27 

Full Access to the Day's Intelligence . . 28 


The Instruments . 30 

The Organization . . 36 

4. THE PERFORMANCE . . . 52 

Scoops and Sensations . . .54 

The Pressure of the Audience ... 57 


The Bias of Owners . . . .59 

Advertising and Sales Talk 62 

Mutual Criticism . . 65 

The Need and the Performance: Quantity 66 

The Need and the Performance: Quality 67 


Self -regulation in Motion Pictures . 69 

Self -regulation in Radio 72 

Self -regulation of Newspapers 74 

Books and Magazines . 76 

Professionalization . 76 

6. WHAT CAN BE DONE . . 79 

What Can Be Done tlirough Government 80 

What Can Be Done by the Press 90 

What Can Be Done by the Public . . 96 







THE Commission set out to answer the question: 
Is the freedom of the press in danger? Its answer 
to that question is : Yes. It concludes that the freedom 
of the press is in danger for three reasons: 

First, the importance of the press to the people has 
greatly increased with the development of the press 
as an instrument of mass communication. At the same 
time the development of the press as an instrument 
of mass communication has greatly decreased the 
proportion of the people who can express their opin- 
ions and ideas through the press. 

Second, the few who are able to use the machinery 
of the press as an instrument of mass communication 
have not provided a service adequate to the needs of 
the society. 

Third, those who direct the machinery of the press 
have engaged from time to time in practices which 
the society condemns and which, if continued, it will 
inevitably undertake to regulate or control. 

When an instrument of prime importance to all the 
people is available to a small minority of the people 


only, and when it is employed by that small minority 
in such a way as not to supply the people with the 
service they require, the freedom of the minority in 
the employment of that instrument is in danger. 

This danger, in the case of the freedom of the press, 
is in part the consequence of the economic structure 
of the press, in part the consequence of the industrial 
organization of modern society, and in part the result 
of the failure of the directors of the press to recog- 
nize the press needs of a modern nation and to esti- 
mate and accept the responsibilities which those 
needs impose upon them. 

We do not believe that the danger to the freedom 
of the press is so great that that freedom will be swept 
away overnight. In our view the present crisis is 
simply a stage in the long struggle for free expression. 
Freedom of expression, of which freedom of the press 
is a part, has always been in danger. Indeed, the Com- 
mission can conceive no state of society in which it 
will not be in danger. The desire to suppress opinion 
different from one's own is inveterate and probably 

Neither do we believe that the problem is one to 
which a simple solution can be found. Government 
ownership, government control, or government ac- 
tion to break up the greater agencies of mass com- 
munication might cure the ills of freedom of the 
press, but only at the risk of killing the freedom in the 
process. Although, as we shall see later, government 


has an important part to play in communications, we 
look principally to the press and the people to remedy 
the ills which have chiefly concerned us. 

'But though the crisis is not unprecedented and 
though the cures may not be dramatic, the problem 
is nevertheless a problem of peculiar importance to 
this generation. And not in the United States alone 
but in England and Japan and Australia and Austria 
and France and Germany as well; and in Russia and 
in the Russian pale. The reasons are obvious. The 
relation of the modern press to modern society is a 
new and unfamiliar relation. 

The modern press itself is a new phenomenon. Its 
typical unit is the great agency of mass communica- 
tion. These agencies can facilitate thought and dis- 
cussion. They can stifle it. They can advance the 
progress of civilization or they can thwart it. They 
can debase and vulgarize mankind. They can en- 
danger the peace of the world; they can do so acci- 
dentally, in a fit of absence of mind. They can play 
up or down the news and its significance, foster and 
feed emotions, create complacent fictions and blind 
spots, misuse the great words, and uphold empty slo- 
gans. Their scope and power are increasing every 
day as new instruments become available to them. 
These instruments can spread lies faster and farther 
than our forefathers dreamed when they enshrined 
the freedom of the press in the First Amendment to 
our Constitution. * 

With the means of self-destruction that are now 
at their disposal, men must live, if they are to live at 
all, by self-restraint, moderation, and mutual under- 
standing. They get their picture of one another 
through the press. The press can be inflammatory, 
sensational, and irresponsible. If it is, it and its free- 
dom will go down in the universal catastrophe. On 
the other hand, the press can do its duty by the new 
world that is struggling to be born. It can help create 
a world community by giving men everywhere 
knowledge of the world and of one another, by pro- 
moting comprehension and appreciation of the goals 
of a free society that shall embrace all men. 

We have seen in our time a revival of the doctrine 
that the state is all and that the person is merely an 
instrument of its purposes. We cannot suppose that 
the military defeat of totalitarianism in its German 
and Italian manifestations has put an end to the in- 
fluence and attractiveness of the doctrine. The neces- 
sity of finding some way through the complexities of 
modem life and of controlling the concentrations of 
power associated with modern industry will always 
make it look as though turning over all problems to 
the government would easily solve them. 

This notion is a great potential danger to the free- 
dom of the press. That freedom is the first which 
totalitarianism strikes down. But steps toward totali- 
tarianism may be taken, perhaps unconsciously, be- 
cause of conditions within the press itself. A technical 


society requires concentration of economic power. 
Since such concentration is a threat to democracy, 
democracy replies by breaking up some centers of 
power that are too large and too strong and by con- 
trolling, or even owning, others. Modern society re- 
quires great agencies of mass communication. They, 
too, are concentrations of power. But breaking up a 
vast network of communication is a different thing 
from breaking up an oil monopoly or a tobacco 
monopoly. If the people set out to break up a unit of 
communication on the theory that it is too large and 
strong, they may destroy a service which they re- 
quire. Moreover, since action to break up an agency 
of communication must be taken at the instance of a 
department of the government, the risk is consider- 
able that the freedom of the press will be imperiled 
through the application of political pressure by that 

If modern society requires great agencies of mass 
communication, if these concentrations become so 
powerful that they are a threat to democracy, if 
democracy cannot solve the problem simply by 
breaking them up then those agencies must control 
themselves or be controlled by government. If they 
are controlled by government, we lose our chief safe- 
guard against totalitarianism and at the same time 
take a long step toward it. 1 

1 A third possibility is that government itself may come into the field 
with an alternative system of communications. The Commission has 
given little consideration to this possibility, except in international 


^Freedom of the press is essential to political lib- 
erty. Where men cannot freely convey their thoughts 
to one another, no freedom is secure. Where freedom 
of expression exists, the beginnings of a free society 
and a means for every extension of liberty are already 
present. Free expression is therefore unique among 
liberties: it promotes and protects all the rest.\ It is 
appropriate that freedom of speech and freedom of 
the press are contained in the first of those constitu- 
tional enactments which are the American Bill of 

Civilized society is a working system of ideas. It 
lives and changes by the consumption of ideas. 
Therefore it must make sure that as many as possible 
of the ideas which its members have are available for 
its examination. It must guarantee freedom of ex- 
pression, to the end that all adventitious hindrances 
to the flow of ideas shall be removed. Moreover, a 
significant innovation in the realm of ideas is likely 
to arouse resistance. Valuable ideas may be put forth 
first in forms that are crude, indefensible, or even 
dangerous. They need the chance to develop througli 
free criticism as well as the chance to survive on the 
basis of their ultimate worth. Hence the man who 
publishes ideas requires special protection. 

communications. Yet the example of Station WNYC, controlled by 
New York City, suggests what government may do in domestic com- 
munications if it regards private service as inadequate. 


The reason for the hostility which the critic or in- 
novator may expect is not merely that it is easier and 
more natural to suppress or discourage him than to 
meet his arguments. Irrational elements are always 
present in the critic, the innovator, and their audi- 
ence. The utterance of critical or new ideas is seldom 
an appeal to pure reason, devoid of emotion, and the 
response is not necessarily a debate; it is always a 
function of the intelligence, the prejudice, the emo- 
tional biases of the audience. Freedom of the press 
to appeal to reason may always be construed as free- 
dom of the press to appeal to public passion and 
ignorance, vulgarity and cynicism. As freedom of 
the press is always in danger, so is it always danger- 
ous. The freedom of the press illustrates the common- 
place that if we are to live progressively we must live 

Across the path of the flow of ideas lie the existing 
centers of social power. The primary protector of 
freedom of expression against their obstructive in- 
fluence is government. Government acts by main- 
taining order and by exercising on behalf of free 
speech and a free press the elementary sanctions 
against the expressions of private interest or resent- 
ment: sabotage, blackmail, and corruption. 

But any power capable of protecting freedom is 
also capable of endangering it. Every modern govern- 
ment, liberal or otherwise, has a specific position in 
the field of ideas; its stability is vulnerable to critics in 


proportion to their ability and persuasiveness. A gov- 
ernment resting on popular suffrage is no exception to 
this rule. It also may be tempted just because public 
opinion is a factor in official livelihoodto manage the 
ideas and images entering public debate. 

If the freedom of the press is to achieve reality, gov- 
ernment must set limits on its capacity to interfere 
with, regulate, or suppress the voices of the press or to 
manipulate the data on which public judgment is 

Government must set these limits on itself, not 
merely because freedom of expression is a reflection 
of important interests of the community, but also be- 
cause it is a moral right. It is a moral right because it 
has an aspect of duty about it. 

It is true that the motives for expression are not all 
dutiful. They are and should be as multiform as hu- 
man emotion itself, grave and gay, casual and pur- 
poseful, artful and idle. But there is a vein of expres- 
sion which has the added impulsion of duty, and 
that is the expression of thought. If a man is burdened 
with an idea, he not only desires to express it; he 
ought to express it. He owes it to his conscience and 
the common good. The indispensable function of 
expressing ideas is one of obligationto the com- 
munity and also to something beyond the communi- 
tylet us say to truth. It is the duty of the scientist 
to his result and of Socrates to his oracle; it is the 
duty of every man to his own belief. Because of this 


duty to what is beyond the state, freedom of speech 
and freedom of the press are moral rights which the 
state must not infringe. 

The moral right of free expression achieves a legal 
status because the conscience of the citizen is the 
source of the continued vitality of the state. Wholly 
apart from the traditional ground for a free press- 
that it promotes the "victory of truth over falsehood" 
in the public arenawe see that public discussion is 
a necessary condition of a free society and that free- 
dom of expression is a necessary condition of ade- 
quate public discussion. Public discussion elicits 
mental power and breadth; it is essential to the build- 
ing of a mentally robust public; and, without some- 
thing of the kind, a self-governing society could not 
operate. The original source of supply for this process 
is the duty of the individual thinker to his thought; 
here is the primary ground of his right. 

This does not mean that every citizen has a moral 
or legal right to own a press or be an editor or have 
access, as of right, to the audience of any given me- 
dium of communication. But it does belong to the 
intention of the freedom of the press that an idea 
shall have its chance even if it is not shared by those 
who own or manage the press. The press is not free 
if those who operate it behave as though their posi- 
tion conferred on them the privilege of being deaf to 
ideas which the processes of free speech have brought 
to public attention. 


But the moral right of free public expression is not 
unconditional. Since the claim of the right is based 
on the duty of a man to the common good and to his 
thought, the ground of the claim disappears when 
this duty is ignored or rejected. In the absence of 
accepted moral duties there are no moral rights. 
Hence, when the man who claims the moral right of 
free expression is a liar, a prostitute whose political 
judgments can be bought, a dishonest inflamer of 
hatred and suspicion, his claim is unwarranted and 
groundless. From the moral point of view, at least, 
freedom of expression does not include the right to 
lie as a deliberate instrument of policy. 

The right of free public expression does include 
the right to be in error. Liberty is experimental. 
Debate itself could not exist unless wrong opinions 
could be rightfully offered by those who suppose 
them to be right. But the assumption that the man 
in error is actually trying for truth is of the essence of 
his claim for freedom. What the moral right does not 
cover is the right to be deliberately or irresponsibly 
in error. 

But a moral right can be forfeited and a legal right 
retained. Legal protection cannot vary with the fluc- 
tuations of inner moral direction in individual wills; 
it does not cease whenever a person has abandoned 
the moral ground of his right. It is not even desirable 
that the whole area of the responsible use of freedom 
should be made legally compulsory, even if it were 


possible; for in that case free self-control, a necessary 
ingredient of any free state, would be superseded by 

Many a lying, venal, and scoundrelly public ex- 
pression must continue to find shelter under a "free- 
dom of the press" built for widely different purposes, 
for to impair the legal right even when the moral 
right is gone may easily be a cure worse than the dis- 
ease. Each definition of an abuse invites abuse of the 
definition. If the courts had to determine the inner 
corruptions of personal intention, honest and neces- 
sary criticisms would proceed under an added peril. 

Though the presumption is against resort to legal 
action to curb abuses of the press, there are limits to 
legal toleration. The already recognized areas of 
legal correction of misused liberty of expression- 
libel, misbranding, obscenity, incitement to riot, 
sedition, in case of clear and present danger have a 
common principle; namely, that an utterance or 
publication invades in a serious, overt, and demon- 
strable manner personal rights or vital social interests. 
As new categories of abuse come within this defini- 
tion, the extension of legal sanctions is justified. The 
burden of proof will rest on those who would extend 
these categories, but the presumption is not intended 
to render society supine before possible new develop- 
ments of misuse of the immense powers of the con- 
temporary press, 



The principles we have attempted to state are 
those general truths which are valid as goals for all 
civilized societies. It must be observed that freedom 
of the press is not a fixed and isolated value, the same 
in every society and in all times. It is a function with- 
in a society and must vary with the social context. It 
will be different in times of general security and in 
times of crisis; it will be different under varying states 
of public emotion and belief. 

The freedom we have been examining has as- 
sumed a type of public mentality which may seem to 
us standard and universal but which is in many re- 
spects a product of our special history a mentality 
accustomed to the noise and confusion of clashing 
opinions and reasonably stable in temper in view of 
the varying fortunes of ideas. But what a mind does 
with a fact or an opinion is widely different when it 
is serene and when it is anxious; when it has con- 
fidence in its environment and when it is infected 
with suspicion or resentment; when it is gullible and 
when it is well furnished with the means of criticism; 
when it has hope and when it is in despair.) 

Further, the citizen is a different man when he has 
to judge his press alon{& and when his judgment is 
steadied by other social agencies. Free and diverse 
utterance may result in bewilderment unless he has 
access through home, church, school, custom to 


interpreting patterns of thought and feeling. There 
is no such thing as the "objectivity" of the press un- 
less the mind of the reader can identify the objects 
dealt with. 

Whether at any time and place the psychological 
conditions exist under which a free press has social 
significance is always a question of fact, not of theory. 
These mental conditions may be lost. They may also 
be created. The press itself is always one of the chief 
agents in destroying or in building the bases of its 
own significance. 

If we now fix our problem in space and time and 
look at the press in the United States today, we see 
that the conditions of our society and of the press in 
our society require new applications of the principles 
we have stated. 

The aim of those who sponsored the First Amend- 
ment was to prevent the government from interfer- 
ing with expression. The authors of our political 
system saw that the free society they were seeking to 
establish could not exist without free communica- 
tion. As Jefferson put it: "The basis of our govern- 
ments being the opinion of the people, the very first 
object should be to keep that right; and were it left 
to me to decide whether we should have a govern- 
ment without newspapers or newspapers without a 
government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer 
the latter. But I should mean that every man should 
receive those papers and be capable of reading them/' 


Our ancestors were justified in thinking that if they 
could prevent the government from interfering with 
the freedom of the press, that freedom would be 
effectively exercised. In their day anybody with any- 
thing to say had comparatively little difficulty in 
getting it published. The only serious obstacle to free 
expression was government censorship. If that could 
l>e stopped, the right of every man to do his duty by 
his thought was secure. The press of those days con- 
sisted of hand-printed sheets issuing from little print- 
ing shops, regularly as newspapers, or irregularly as 
broadsides, pamphlets, or books. Presses were cheap; 
the journeyman printer could become a publisher 
and editor by borrowing the few dollars he needed 
to set up his shop and by hiring an assistant or two. 
With a limited number of people who could read, 
and with property qualifications for the suffrage- 
less than 6 per cent of the adult population voted for 
the conventions held to ratify the Constitution there 
was no great discrepancy between the number of 
those who could read and were active citizens and 
those who could command the financial resources to 
engage in publication. 

It was not supposed that any one newspaper would 
represent all, or nearly all, of the conflicting view- 
points regarding public issues. Together they could 
be expected to do so, and, if they did not, the man 
whose opinions were not represented could start a 
publication of his own. 


Nor was it supposed that many citizens would sub- 
scribe to all the local journals. It was more likely that 
each would take the one which would reinforce his 
prejudices. But in each village and town, with its rel- 
atively simple social structure and its wealth of neigh- 
borly contacts, various opinions might encounter 
each other in face-to-face meetings; the truth, it was 
hoped, would be sorted out by competition in the 
local market place. 

Those circumstances which provided variety and 
interchange of opinion and easy individual access to 
the market place of ideas have changed so radically 
as to justify us in saying that this country has gone 
through a communications revolution. 

Literacy, the electorate, and the population have 
increased to such a point that the political community 
to be served by the press includes all but a tiny frac- 
tion of the millions of the American people. The press 
has been transformed into an enormous and compli- 
cated piece of machinery. As a necessary accompani- 
ment, it has become big business. There is a marked 
reduction in the number of units of the press relative 
to the total population. Although in small communi- 
ties we can still see a newspaper plant and product 
that resemble their Colonial prototypes, these are no 
longer the most characteristic or the most influential 
agencies of communication. 

The right of free public expression has therefore 
lost its earlier reality. Protection against government 


is now not enough to guarantee that a man who has 
something to say shall have a chance to say it. The 
owners and managers of the press determine which 
persons, which facts, which versions of the facts, and 
which ideas shall reach the public. 

This is one side of the shieldthe effect of the com- 
munications revolution on the right of the citizen to 
publish his beliefs. The other side is the effect of the 
communications revolution on the press as the agency 
through which the members of a free society receive, 
as well as exchange, the judgments, opinions, ideas, 
and information which they need in order to partic- 
ipate in the management of that society. The press 
has become a vital necessity in the transaction of the 
public business of a continental area. 

In local affairs there is still a chance for face-to-face 
observation to get in its work. Many private groups, 
formal and informal, throw an extensive web of 
alternative communication over the country or over 
parts of it. But there is obviously less opportunity 
for direct observation and news by word of mouth 
in a metropolitan region, in a great nation, or in a 
world society than there is in a village, a small state, 
or a single country. For the most part the under- 
standing of the leaders and people of China, Russia, 
England, and Argentina possessed by the citizens of 
New Hampshire, Kansas, Oregon, and Alabama will 
be gained from the agencies of mass communication. 
Hardly less is the dependence on these agencies of 


midwest fanners for their understanding of a strike 
in Detroit or a change in the discount rate by the 
Federal Reserve Board in Washington. 

The complexity of modern industrial society, the 
critical world situation, and the new menaces to 
freedom which these imply mean that the time has 
come for the press to assume a new public respon- 

Through concentration of ownership the variety 
of sources of news and opinion is limited. At the same 
time the insistence of the citizen's need has increased. 
He is dependent on the quality, proportion, and 
extent of his news supply, not only for his personal 
access to the world of event, thought, and feeling, 
but also for the materials of his duties as a citizen and 
judge of public affairs. The soundness of his judgment 
affects the working of the state and even the peace 
of the world, involving the survival of the state as a 
free community. Under these circumstances it be- 
comes an imperative question whether the perform- 
ance of the press can any longer be left to the un- 
regulated initiative of the few who manage it. 

The moral and legal right of those who manage it 
to utter their opinions must remain intact; this right 
stands for the valid kernel of individualism at the 
heart of all social life. But the element of duty in- 
volved in the right requires a new scrutiny; and the 
service of news, as distinct from the utterance of 
opinion, acquires a new importance. The need of the 


citizen for adequate and uncontaminated mental 
food is such that he is under a duty to get it. Thus his 
interest also acquires the stature of a right. 

To protect the press is no longer automatically to 
protect the citizen or the community. The freedom of 
the press can remain a right of those who publish only 
if it incorporates into itself the right of the citizen 
and the public interest. 

Freedom of the press means freedom from and 
freedom for. The press must be free from the menace 
of external compulsions from whatever source. To 
demand that it be free from pressures which might 
warp its utterance would be to demand that society 
should be empty of contending forces and beliefs. 
But persisting and distorting pressuresfinancial, 
popular, clerical, institutionalmust be known and 
counterbalanced. The press must, if it is to be wholly 
free, know and overcome any biases incident to its 
own economic position, its concentration, and its 
pyramidal organization. 

The press must be free for the development of its 
own conceptions of service and achievement. It must 
be free for making its contribution to the mainte- 
nance and development of a free society. 

This implies that the press must also be account- 
able. It must be accountable to society for meeting 
the public need and for maintaining the rights of 
citizens and the almost forgotten rights of speakers 
who have no press. It must know that its faults and 


errors have ceased to be private vagaries and have 
become public dangers. The voice of the press, so far 
as by a drift toward monopoly it tends to become 
exclusive in its wisdom and observation, deprives 
other voices of a hearing and the public of their con- 
tribution. Freedom of the press for the coming period 
can only continue as an accountable freedom. Its 
moral right will be conditioned on its acceptance of 
this accountability. Its legal right will stand unal- 
tered as its moral duty is performed. 



IF THE freedom of the press is freighted with the 
responsibility of providing the current intelli- 
gence needed by a free society, we have to discover 
what a free society requires. Its requirements in 
America today are greater in variety, quantity, and 
quality than those of any previous society in any 
age. They are the requirements of a self-governing 
republic of continental size, whose doings have be- 
come, within a generation, matters of common con- 
cern in new and important ways. Its internal 
arrangements, from being thought of mainly as mat- 
ters of private interest and automatic market adjust- 
ments, have become affairs of conflict and conscious 
compromise among organized groups, whose powers 
appear not to be bounded by "natural law," economic 
or other. Externally, it has suddenly assumed a lead- 
ing role in the attempt to establish peaceful relation- 
ships among all the states on the globe. 

Today our society needs, first, a truthful, compre- 
hensive, and intelligent account of the day's events in 
a context which gives them meaning; second, a forum 
for the exchange of comment and criticism; third, a 


means of projecting the opinions and attitudes of the 
groups in the society to one another; fourth, a method 
of presenting and clarifying the goals and values of 
the society; and, fifth, a way of reaching every mem- 
ber of the society by the currents of information, 
thought, and feeling which the press supplies. 

The Commission has no idea that these five ideal 
demands can ever be completely met. All of them 
cannot be met by any one medium; some do not 
apply at all to a particular unit; nor do all apply with 
equal relevance to all parts of the communications 
industry. The Commission does not suppose that 
these standards will be new to the managers of the 
press; they are drawn largely from their professions 
and practices. 




The first requirement is that the media should be 
accurate. They should not lie. 

Here the first link in ihe chain of responsibility is 
the reporter at the source of the news. He must be 
careful and competent. He must estimate correctly 
which sources are most authoritative. He must prefer 
firsthand observation to hearsay. He must know what 
questions to ask, what things to observe, and which 
items to report. His employer has the duty of training 
him to do his work as it ought to be done. 


Of equal importance with reportorial accuracy are 
the identification of fact as fact and opinion as opin- 
ion, and their separation, so far as possible. This is 
necessary all the way from the reporter's file, up 
through the copy and makeup desks and editorial 
offices, to the final, published product. The distinc- 
tion cannot, of course, be made absolute. There is no 
fact without a context and no factual report which is 
uncolored by the opinions of the reporter. But mod- 
ern conditions require greater effort than ever to 
make the distinction between fact and opinion. In a 
simpler order of society published accounts of events 
within the experience of the community could be 
compared with other sources of information. Today 
this is usually impossible. The account of an isolated 
fact, however accurate in itself, may be misleading 
and, in effect, untrue. 

The greatest danger here is in the communication 
of information internationally /The press now bears a 
responsibility in all countries, and particularly in 
democratic countries, where foreign policies are 
responsive to popular majorities, to report interna- 
tional events in such a way that they can be under- 
stood. It is no longer enough to report the fact truth- 
fully. It is now necessary to report the truth about the 

In this country a similar obligation rests upon the 
press in reporting domestic news? The country has 
many groups which are partially insulated from one 


another and which need to be interpreted to one 
another. Factually correct but substantially untrue 
accounts of the behavior of members of one of these 
social islands can intensify the antagonisms of others 
toward them, A single incident will be accepted as 
a sample of group action unless the press has given a 
flow of information and interpretation concerning 
the relations between two racial groups such as to 
enable the reader to set a single event in its proper 
perspective. If it is allowed to pass as a sample of 
such action, the requirement that the press present 
an accurate account of the day's events in a context 
which gives them meaning has not been met. 


The second requirement means that the great 
agencies of mass communication should regard them- 
selves as common carriers of public discussion. 1 The 
units of the press have in varying degrees assumed 
this function and should assume the responsibilities 
which go with it, more generally and more explicitly. 

It is vital to a free society that an idea should not 
be stifled by the circumstances of its birth/ The press 
cannot and should not be expected to print every- 
body's ideas. But the giant units can and should 

1 By the use of this analogy the Commission does not intend to 
suggest that the agencies of communication should be subject to the 
legal obligations of common carriers, such as compulsory reception of 
all applicants for space, the regulation of rates, etc. 


assume the duty of publishing significant ideas con- 
trary to their own, as a matter of objective reporting, 
distinct from their proper function of advocacy. Their 
control over the various ways of reaching the ear of 
America is such that, if they do not publish ideas 
which differ from their own, those ideas will never 
reach the ear of America. If that happens, one of the 
chief reasons for the freedom which these giants 
claim disappears. 

Access to a unit of the press acting as a common 
carrier is possible in a number of ways, all of which, 
however, involve selection on the part of the mana- 
gers of the unit. The individual whose views are not 
represented on an editorial page may reach an audi- 
ence through a public statement reported as news, 
through a letter to the editor, through a statement 
printed in advertising space, or through a magazine 
article. But some seekers for space are bound to be 
disappointed and must resort to pamphlets or such 
duplicating devices as will spread their ideas to such 
public as will attend to them. 

But all the important viewpoints and interests in 
the society should be represented in its agencies of 
mass communication. Those who have these view- 
points and interests cannot count on explaining them 
to their fellow-citizens through newspapers or radio 
stations of their own. Even if they could make the 
necessary investment, they could have no assurance 
that their publications would be read or their pro- 


grams heard by the public outside their own adher- 
ents. An ideal combination would include general 
media, inevitably solicitous to present their own 
views, but setting forth other views fairly. As checks 
on their fairness, and partial safeguards against ig- 
noring important matters, more specialized media 
of advocacy have a vital place. In the absence of 
such a combination the partially insulated groups in 
society will continue to be insulated. The unchal- 
lenged assumptions of each group will continue to 
harden into prejudice. The mass medium reaches 
across all groups; through the mass medium they 
can come to understand one another. 

Whether a unit of the press is an advocate or a 
common carrier, it ought to identify the sources of 
its facts, opinions, and arguments so that the reader 
or listener can judge them. Persons who are presented 
with facts, opinions, and arguments are properly in- 
fluenced by the general reliability of those who offer 
them. If the veracity of statements is to be appraised, 
those who offer them must be known. 

Identification of source is necessary to a free so- 
ciety. Democracy, in time of peace, at least, has a 
justifiable confidence that full and free discussion will 
strengthen rather than weaken it. But, if the discus- 
sion is to have the effect for which democracy hopes, 
if it is to be really full and free, the names and the 
characters of the participants must not be hidden 
from view. 



This requirement is closely related to the two pre- 
ceding. People make decisions in large part in terms 
of favorable or unfavorable images. They relate fact 
and opinion to stereotypes, Today the motion picture, 
the radio, the book, the magazine, the newspaper, 
and the comic strip are principal agents in creating 
and perpetuating these conventional conceptions. 
When the images they portray fail to present the 
social group truly, they tend to pervert judgment. 

Such failure may occur indirectly and incidentally. 
Even if nothing is said about the Chinese in the 
dialogue of a film, yet if the Chinese appear in a suc- 
cession of pictures as sinister drug addicts and mili- 
tarists, an image of China is built which needs to be 
balanced by another. If the Negro appears in the 
stories published in magazines of national circulation 
only as a servant, if children figure constantly in radio 
dramas as impertinent and ungovernable brats the 
image of the Negro and the American child is dis- 
torted. The plugging of special color and "hate" 
words in radio and press dispatches, in advertising 
copy, in news stories such words as "ruthless," "con- 
fused/' "bureaucratic" perf orms inevitably the same 
image-making function. 

Responsible performance here simply means that 
the images repeated and emphasized be such as are 
in total representative of the social group as it is. The 


truth about any social group, though it should not 
exclude its weaknesses and vices, includes also recog- 
nition of its values, its aspirations, and its common 
humanity. The Commission holds to the faith that 
if people are exposed to the inner truth of the life 
of a particular group, they will gradually build up 
respect for and understanding of it. 


The press has a similar responsibility with regard 
to the values and goals of our society as a whole. The 
mass media, whether or not they wish to do so, blur 
or clarify these ideals as they report the failings and 
achievements of every day. 2 The Commission does 
not call upon the press to sentimentalize, to manip- 
ulate the facts for the purpose of painting a rosy 
picture. The Commission believes in realistic re- 
porting of the events and forces that militate against 
the attainment of social goals as well as those which 
work for them. We must recognize, however, that 
the agencies of mass communication are an educa- 

2 A striking indication of the continuous need to renew the basic 
values of our society is given in the recent poll of public opinion by the 
National Opinion Research Center at Denver, in which one out of 
every three persons polled did not think the newspapers should be 
allowed to criticize the American form of government, even in peace- 
time. Only 57 per cent thought that the Socialist party should be 
allowed, in peacetime, to publish newspapers in the United States. 
Another poll revealed that less than a fourth of those questioned had a 
''reasonably accurate idea" of what the Bill of Rights is. Here is wide- 
spread ignorance with regard to the value most cherished by the press- 
its own freedomwhich seems only dimly understood by many of its 


tional instrument, perhaps the most powerful there 
is; and they must assume a responsibility like that of 
educators in stating and clarifying the ideals toward 
which the community should strive. 


It is obvious that the amount of current informa- 
tion required by the citizens in a modern industrial 
society is far greater than that required in any earlier 
day. We do not assume that all citizens at all times 
will actually use all the material they receive. By ne- 
cessity or choice large numbers of people voluntarily 
delegate analysis and decision to leaders whom they 
trust. Such leadership in our society is freely chosen 
and constantly changing; it is informal, unofficial, 
and flexible. Any citizen may at any time assume the 
power of decision. In this way government is carried 
on by consent. 

But such leadership does not alter the need for the 
wide distribution of news and opinion. The leaders 
are not identified; we can inform them only by mak- 
ing information available to everybody. 

The five requirements listed in this chapter sug- 
gest what our society is entitled to demand of its 
press. We can now proceed to examine the tools, the 
structure, and the performance of the press to see 
how it is meeting these demands. 

Let us summarize these demands in another way. 


The character of the service required of the Amer- 
ican press by the American people differs from the 
service previously demanded, first, in this that it is 
essential to the operation of the economy and to the 
government of the Republic. Second, it is a service 
of greatly increased responsibilities both as to the 
quantity and as to the quality of the information re- 
quired. In terms of quantity, the information about 
themselves and about their world made available to 
the American people must be as extensive as the 
range of their interests and concerns as citizens of a 
self-governing, industrialized community in the 
closely integrated modern world. In terms of quality, 
the information provided must be provided in such 
a form, and with so scrupulous a regard for the whole- 
ness of the truth and the fairness of its presentation, 
that the American people may make for themselves, 
by the exercise of reason and of conscience, the fun- 
damental decisions necessary to the direction of their 
government and of their lives. 





THE new instruments which technology has 
given the press have enormously increased the 
range, variety, and speed of mass communications. 
They have also contributed to the growth of huge 
business corporations. The development of new tech- 
niques and growth in the size of units are not peculiar 
to the press. They have occurred in almost all in- 
dustries. Moreover, the changes in the press are 
closely related, partly as cause and partly as effect, 
to the technological and industrial changes else- 
where. The technical-industrial development in 
other areas made possible the new machinery of mass 
communication which permits, and even requires, 
operation on a continental scale. The minutely timed 
reactions of the new industrial society depend, in 
turn, on the service supplied by the vast network of 
the agencies of mass communications. 


Mass communication began with the invention of 
the steam-driven press in the early nineteenth cen- 
tury. This was followed by the high-speed rotary 


press, the linotype machine, and photoengraving, 
which were accompanied by the appearance of the 
land-line telegraph, the oceanic cable, and the land- 
line telephone. 

Our generation has seen the development of mov- 
ingthen moving and talkingpictures, of wireless 
transmission used for telegraph, telephone, and voice 
broadcasting; of airplane transport; of offset and 
color printing. Together they have changed the char- 
acter of mass communication, adding to the printed 
word the broadcast word and the moving image, and 
bringing the remote corners of the world within a 
few hours of one another. 

We are now in the midst of this technological 
revolution. It is far from completed. The war put into 
military use a new series of inventions. Their possibil- 
ities have not been fully realized, partly because of 
delays resulting from reconversion from war work 
and partly because of the need for further experi- 
ment. Technologial advance creates its own inertia 
because investment does not disappear so rapidly 
from the balance sheet as new inventions render the 
equipment obsolescent. The investments of users of 
existing machinery and the vested interests of skilled 
employees slow down change. 

The fullest use at lowest prices of radio telegraph 
was retarded, and still is retarded, because of the 
huge investment in ocean cables and land lines; di- 
rect international radio voice broadcasting from the 


United States languished for want of interest by 
advertisers until the war compelled its exploitation 
and proved its value to the American people. Lino- 
type machines which can do the job of four or five 
ordinary machines are held back by the opposition 
of the unions; apprenticeship rules are holding back 
improvements in engraving. It is admitted that fre- 
quency modulation (FM) radio has been delayed 
not only by war priorities but also by AM ( standard 
broadcasting) owners and by the unions. It remains 
to be seen whether similar delays will be encoun- 
tered, for similar reasons, by television and the 
facsimile newspaper. 

But full utilization of these inventions is clearly in 
the offing, and their potential influence is enormous. 

A world-wide voice broadcasting network over 
which the deliberations of the United Nations as they 
take place could be transmitted to every citizen on 
the planet is mechanically possible at the present 
time. Such a network has been recommended by the 
United States National Commission for U.N.E.S.C.O. 

Air mail and air express are technically at the point 
where films or periodicals can be delivered anywhere 
on the inhabited earth in two or three days. Light 
plastic plates of magazine pages can be flown to 
printing plants anywhere so that a complete period- 
ical may come off the press on five continents forty- 
eight hours after it has been assembled in the orig- 
inating office. 


Through new processes of book manufacturing 
the people of the world can be supplied with the 
best literature of all countries at twenty-five cents a 
copy or less. Experimental work on printing presses is 
expected to reduce the cost of manufacture still fur- 
ther, particularly for the smaller plants. 

Frequency modulation radio is now mechanically 
ready for general use. It is expected to replace the 
standard broadcasting systems, except for high- 
powered clear channels reaching sparsely settled 
areas. FM's technical superiority over AM is that 
it gives better tone, free from static. FM provides 
an opportunity for more stations, each serving its 
local community on equal terms as to volume, and 
makes possible new and more widely distributed 
station ownership. 

An even newer device, pulse-time modulation, 
though not yet clearly established as a means of 
broadcasting to home receivers, will undoubtedly 
make it possible within a few years to broadcast more 
than one program simultaneously over one channel. 
It will cut down the cost of broadcasting any pro- 
gram and at the same time increase the variety of 
programs available to a community at a given time. 

Of immediate importance are the advances which 
the war produced in long-distance wireless transmis- 
sion. Speeds up to eight hundred words a minute (as 
compared with average cable speeds of forty to sixty 
words a minute) have been attained, and interrup- 


tions resulting from atmospheric conditions are slow- 
ly yielding to the ingenuity of the engineers. Four- 
color facsimile, by which text or photographs or both 
are transmitted by wireless, has reached the point 
where whole pages of books and periodicals with 
their illustrations are now being instantaneously sent 
in any language halfway round the earth. 

The war also gave impetus to multiple-address 
press transmission, by which news is distributed by 
wireless, not from point to point, but from a single 
originating station to receivers in an entire region. 
Just how radically this reduces costs appears from an 
application to the F.C.C. of a subsidiary of the Inter- 
national Telephone and Telegraph Company, re- 
cently approved. The cost to the users of this multi- 
ple-address press system will be a cent and a half a 
word. This is four to ten times cheaper than any pre- 
vious service. It is as cheap for the obscure editor in 
a distant outpost of civilization as for the metropoli- 
tan publisher in a European capital. It is as cheap 
and it is of the same quality. Within the next decade 
or two this kind of service will be a major means of 
communicating news across national borders. Only 
national regulations and the habits of press associa- 
tions prevent its general adoption today. 

The facsimile newspaper is equally practicable 
now. Such a newspaper would go to press at the local 
radio station at 5:00 A.M., say, would be broadcast 
from FM transmitters, and would drop, automatically 


folded, from the home radio receiver ready for the 
family breakfast table. It can be distributed more 
quickly and more frequently than the standard news- 
paper. No expensive power presses will be required 
to print it and no newsstands, news dealers, trucks, 
trains, or airplanes to distribute it. The farmer and 
the city dweller will have access to news of the same 

The facsimile newspaper need not be expensive. 
John V. L. Hogan, one of the ablest experts in the 
facsimile field, estimates that receivers may come 
down to the price of radio phonographs, say $100- 
$400. The paper, to be provided by the reader, at 
present costs four cents for a four-page facsimile edi- 
tion. But Hogan estimates that it eventually may cost 
only a pennyactually cheaper than the printed 

Television is more familiar to the layman, but his 
conception of it does not altogether reflect the im- 
portance of the invention. I Television is not just a 
better or different form of radio. It is a combination 
of radio and motion picture which adds new di- 
mensions to mass communication. The form, color, 
and sound of events will sooner or later be re-enacted 
by television before enormous household audiences 
all over the world. People in remote parts of the 
globe will be permitted the same face-to-face obser- 
vation of each other that is now limited to the citizens 
of small communities/ 

The speed, quantity, and variety of mass com- 
munication will continue to increase. Long since, the 


volume and variety of words and images have ex- 
ceeded the capacity of any individual consumer to 
assimilate them. The press has an increasing respon- 
sibility for the organization and selection of the ma- 
terial it distributes. But the citizen, who has always 
had to sift the material he has received, will now have 
a more complicated task than ever. 

We cannot assume that the mere increase in quan- 
tity and variety of mass communication will increase 
mutual understanding. It may give wider currency to 
reports which intensify prejudice and hatred. Never- 
theless, the new instruments exist and will be used 
in any case. The cure for distorted information would 
seem to be more infonnation, not less the full and 
responsible use of the new instruments of communi- 
cation to get before the peoples of the world a true 
picture of one another and of what goes on among 


These technological changes have in one sense 
resulted in a greater diversity of communication. In- 
formation and discussion are now supplied through 
different channels by different managements. Tele- 
vision and the broadcast newspaper may introduce 
still further diversity of ownership and management, 
for it is not certain that these new instruments will 
become the property of those who control the old 


But the outstanding fact about the communica- 
tions industry today is that the number of its units 
has declined. In many places the small press has been 
completely extinguished. The great cities have three 
or four daily newspapers each, smaller cities may 
have two; but most places have only one. News-gath- 
ering is concentrated in three great press associations, 
and features are supplied from a central source by 
syndicates. There are eight majors in motion pictures, 
four national radio networks, eight to fifteen giants 
among magazine publishers, five to twenty-five big 
book houses. Throughout the communications in- 
dustry the little fellow exists on very narrow margins, 
and the opportunities for initiating new ventures are 
strictly limited. The detailed picture of concentration 
in each medium is as follows. 


For a considerable period (since 1909) the num- 
ber of daily English-language newspapers has fallen 
at a fairly constant rate. At the same time there has 
been a growth in literacy, in total population, and in 
total circulation. The peak of 2,600 dailies reached 
in 1909 has been steadily reduced to the present 
1,750. Dr. R. B. Nixon, who has done the most recent 
research on this subject, reported in the Journalism 
Quarterly for June, 1945, that only 117 (approxi- 
mately one out of twelve ) of the cities in which daily 
newspapers are published now have competing dai- 


lies. He also found that in ten states of the Union no 
cities have competing dailies; in twenty-two states 
no cities have competing Sunday newspapers. Alto- 
gether 40 per cent of the estimated total daily news- 
paper circulation of forty-eight million is noncom- 
petitive. Rival newspapers exist only in the larger 

Twenty-five hundred of the 16,000 and more 
weekly newspapers of the nation disappeared be- 
tween 1910 and 1920, another 1,300 between 1920 
and 1930, and 1,750 more in the next decade. Fewer 
than 10,000 now survive. 1 


A few big houses own the magazines of largest Cir- 
culation. 2 The eight leading publishers include the 
so-called "Big Five": Curtis, with the Ladies' ho*ne 
Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Country JenJv- 
man, and the new Holiday; Time, Inc., with Lijc, 
Time, Fortune, and Architectural Forum; Crowell- 
Collier's, with Colliers, American, and Woman's 
Home Companion; Hearst, with Good Housekeep- 
ing, Harpers Bazaar, House Beautiful, and the new 
Junior Bazaar; and McCalTs, with McCall's Mag- 
azine and Red Book. To these should be added the 

1 The approximately 100 foreign-language dailies and 150 Negro 
dailies and weeklies have shown neither marked increase nor decline. 

8 There is a top group of magazines, a dozen to fifteen, each of which 
has a circulation of 2,000,000 or more, and a second group of seventy 
to eighty with circulations over 100,000. 


Reader's Digest, which had at the end of the war an 
estimated domestic circulation of 8,500,000, plus 
Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Arabic, Danish, and 
Finnish editions totaling another 1,500,000; all but 
the last of these had the largest circulations in their 
languages. Among the giants must be included also 
the Capper group of farm periodicals and the sep- 
arately owned Farm Journal, which together have a 
circulation over six million. Very recently the Cor- 
onet-Esquire group, with a reported circulation of 
four million for Coronet, has jumped into the higher 

Thirty years ago there were nearly two dozen major 
women's magazines and a group of six large maga- 
zines which was just emerging. Now the six largest 
in a reduced field have nearly nine-tenths of the total 

Though there is still a lively interest in new ven- 
tures in magazines and the attempt to launch one is 
frequently made, the advantages in promotion pos- 
sessed by the big groups give their publications a 
|iead start in the race for readers. 
* " a book publishing the competitive area is com- 
paratively broad. New book houses appear fre- 
quently, and some rapidly achieve financial success. 
Approximately two hundred houses provide 90 per 
cent of the books published in the United States each 
year. More than a quarter of the annual titles are 
produced by the ten largest publishers. 


There is a Big Five in trade or general publishing. 
They are headed by Doubleday-Doran, which print- 
ed forty million volumes in 1945, with gross receipts 
somewhere near thirty million dollars. The next 
four, Macmillan, Pocket Books, William Wise, and 
Harper's, do not approach this size. (The Book-of- 
the-Month Club could be included in this group. ) In 
the textbook and subscription book field a small 
number of still other publishers do a large percentage 
of the total business which equals or exceeds the 
trade publication total. 

In the field of technical books McGraw-Hill de- 
serves special mention. It accounts for approximately 
25 per cent of such books and, in addition, dominates 
the field of business and industrial magazines. The 
importance of these magazines, and hence of concen- 
tration in this area, should not be underestimated. 


The situation in radio is distinguished by the fact 
that the number of stations which can broadcast 
without interference is limited by nature and the 
further fact that the maintenance of competition 
among these stations is enjoined by law. The result 
is that the number of stations at present is just over a 
thousand, of which only twenty-five are Class IA 
clear channel stations, and that single ownership of 


more than one in any locality or more than eight in 
all is effectively prevented by the Federal Communi- 
cations Commission. In spite of these facts, however, 
the prevalent trend in the communications industry 
has dominated radio. The broadcasting networks 
which provide programs to the stations are outside 
the regulative power of the F.C.C., except as they 
own stations subject to regulation, or except as re- 
gards their contracts with affiliated stations. Over the 
last twenty years, four great networks have emerged 
the National Broadcasting Company, the Columbia 
Broadcasting System, the American Broadcasting 
Company, and the Mutual Broadcasting System. The 
natural tendency of national advertisers to gravitate 
toward the networks has induced nearly eight hun- 
dred of the thousand stations to become affiliated 
with the chains. 


The eight major motion picture companies are 
Loew's (M-G-M), RKO, Warner Brothers, Para- 
mount, and Twentieth Century-Fox, which five pro- 
duce, distribute, and exhibit pictures; Columbia and 
Universal, which produce and distribute alone; and 
United Artists, which distributes for a group of inde- 
pendent producing companies and exhibits in Eng- 
land. Approximately a fifth of the theater capacity of 
this country has been affiliated with the five produc- 


ing companies among the eight majors. The thea- 
ters in the best city locations with the largest audi- 
ences, the highest admissions, and the longest runs 
have been controlled by the eight major companies. 3 


Large individual units in a single medium are not 
the only types of Big Press that have grown up. An- 
other kind of development, especially in the news- 
paper field and in motion pictures, is the ownership 
of more than one newspaper or other mass medium 
in one or several cities by a single person or corpora- 
tion. These are technically called chain ownerships. 

The number of papers controlled by national 
chains has actually declined in recent years, the 
papers included in the Hearst chain having dropped 
from twenty-six to seventeen in the ten depression 
years, and those in the Scripps-Howard chain from 
twenty-three to eighteen. At present only a dozen 
chains among newspapers extend beyond seven 
dailies, and all but three or four are limited to a single 

The number of regional chains or, more properly, 
single ownership of papers in two to a dozen different 
communities has, however, increased. In 1935 there 
were 63 such combined ownerships, and in 1945, 76. 
Fourteen were cases of single ownership of 8 or more 

8 Other large and well-established companies dealing in production 
and distribution are Monogram, Republic, and PRC. There are a number 
of other "satellite" producing companies which distribute their pictures 
through one or the other of the majors. 


papers. The 76 chains national, regional, and local- 
own 375 dailies altogether, or 25 per cent of all Eng- 
lish-language dailies. In addition, there are 174 lo- 
calities in which there are partial combinations of 
separately published newspapers through joint use 
of the single printing establishment, so that a Repub- 
lican and a Democratic newspaper run peacefully 
through the same press but at different times of day. 
Whatever the tendency is, the fact remains that 
the local and regional chains, together with the 
Hearst, Scripps-Howard, and McCormick-Patterson 
ownership groups, control more than half (53.8 per 
cent) of the total newspaper circulation of the na- 
tion. Fourteen newspaper owners control 25 per cent 
of the daily circulation, with less than fifty owners 
controlling nearly half the total Sunday circulation. 


Monopoly, in the strict sense of single control of 
all current information coming into an area, does not 
exist in the communications industry. The nearest 
thing to it and it is too near for comfort is unitary 
ownership in a single locality. This does exist". Ninety- 
two per cent of the communities in this country, all 
but the bigger cities, have only one local newspaper. 
In a hundred small communities the only newspaper 
owner also owns the only radio station. This creates a 
local monopoly of local news. 4 Joint newspaper-radio 

* There are cases of significant concentration of newspaper and radio 
ownership in some regions, such as that of Frank E. Gannett, whose 


ownership is increasing. About a third of the radio 
stations in the United States are controlled by news- 
papers, and the applications for FM licenses so far 
received exceed this ratio. 


The Commission doubts that any regional or na- 
tional monopoly of communications by a single owner 
is possible. Mr. Hearst at the top of his fortunes, not 
many years ago, had accumulated twenty-six news- 
papers, thirteen magazines (mainly with large cir- 
culation), eight radio stations, a newsreel company, 
a substantial interest in a motion picture feature pro- 
ducing company, a leading feature syndicate, and 
one of the three press associations, for a total of an 
estimated thirty million readers and a huge motion 
picture and radio audience. But at this peak Hearst's 
organization was in brisk competition with rivals in 
each medium. It was a communications empire of 
great size and influence; but it was no monopoly. 
And it has visibly decreased in size in recent years. 

The Luce interests, the Cowles interests, and the 
Marshall Field interests are powerful combinations 
in the various media. The Radio Corporation of 
America, if not an empire in the Hearst sense, was at 
its moment of greatest extent a mass communications 
principality of extraordinary scope. 

chain of papers does not extend outside upstate New York. His hegem- 
ony, powerful as it is, falls far short of giving him an actual monopoly 
in that region. 


The Luce interests have owned, at one time or an- 
other, a weekly news magazine (Time), a weekly 
picture magazine (Life), two monthly magazines 
(Fortune and Architectural Forum), a documentary 
motion picture producing company and a radio pro- 
gram ( "March of Time" ) , and interest in a metropol- 
itan radio station (WQXR) and a radio network 
( A.B.C. ) the two latter now sold. The Cowles broth- 
ers own four midwest newspapers, four radio sta- 
tions, and a weekly picture magazine. The Radio 
Corporation of America, which is a leading manu- 
facturer of radio and sound and color equipment, 
owns the National Broadcasting Company, had a sub- 
stantial interest in RKO-Radio Pictures, Inc., and is 
one of the two leading American companies handling 
the international radio telegraph business to and 
from the United States. 

Big money made in other fields is now going into 
communications. The Atlas Corporation has recently 
bought Liberty Magazine, with a circulation of a mil- 
lion and a half, and has a substantial interest in RKO- 
Radio Pictures, Inc., and Walt Disney Productions, 
as well as three movie-fan magazines. Marshall Field 
owns two metropolitan dailies, four radio stations, a 
farm journal, and a Sunday newspaper magazine 
supplement used by more than forty papers. He also 
has a controlling interest in a large book publishing 
house and its related reprint house. Edward Noble 
used money from the sale of Lifesavers to buy the 


Blue network. The Pew interests (Sun Oil) control 
one of the biggest farm journals, a group of trade 
papers including Iron Age, and Pathfinder magazine 
with a large circulation in small town and rural areas. 


The press associations and some one hundred and 
seventy-five companies offer feature services with 
nation-wide coverage, so that, as compared with fifty 
years ago, an increasing sameness appears in news 
stories, photographs, cartoons, and columns. Even 
editorials are mass-produced for certain categories of 
papers. Almost all of the ten thousand weekly news- 
papers still surviving, for example, have for a long 
time used the services of the Western Newspaper 
Union, a manufacturer of editorials, features, and 
columns, owned by John H. Perry, the so-called 
"Boiler Plate King." Nearly three thousand of them 
use an eight-page paper provided by Western News- 
paper Union, four of the pages of which are pre- writ- 
ten, pre-edited, and pre-printed by syndicate. Perry 
is also developing a chain of small papers including 
seven dailies, fourteen weeklies, and four radio sta- 
tions. He owns the principal trade magazine for the 
weekly press and has an interest in plants producing 
printing machinery which he sells to his clients. 

Of the 1,750 remaining general English daily news- 
papers in the United States, 95 per cent, serving all 
but one-fifth of 1 per cent of the total daily circula- 


tion, take the services of one or more of the three 
major press associations the Associated Press, 
United Press, and International News Service. This 
standardization is made more uniform still by the fact 
that International News Service is owned by interests 
identified with Hearst, United Press by interests 
identified with Scripps-Howard, and the Associated 
Press by a limited, and until recently self -limiting, 
group of newspaper publishers. ( Radio stations and 
news magazines are now admitted to associate mem- 
bership without a vote. ) 

The same interrelationship within an interrelation- 
ship appears in the syndicate news and photo feature 
business which sells photographs, comic strips, fea- 
ture columns, and the like, thus providing a central 
control of content far more extensive than any control 
through ownership. Perry's Western Newspaper Un- 
ion is itself one of the country's biggest newspaper 
syndicates in terms of papers served. Of the five or 
six biggest syndicates, among the hundred-and-sev- 
enty-odd now operating, King Features is connected 
with the Hearst interests; United Features and 
Newspaper Enterprise Association, with the Scripps- 
Howard interests. Associated Press operates one of 
the largest and most complete feature services. Large 
syndicates are owned or controlled by metropolitan 
newspapers: the Chicago Tribune and the New York 
Daily News (jointly), one of the largest of all the 
syndicates, the New York Herald Tribune, the Des 


Moines Register and Tribune, the Chicago Sun, PM , 
the New York Evening Post, and the Chicago Times. 


The main causes of the trend toward concentra- 
tion in the communication industries have been the 
advantages inherent in operating on a large scale 
using the new technology, High labor costs have 
also contributed to the elimination of the smaller, 
marginal owner. 

Other forces are at work as well. They are personal 
forces; they have nothing to do with technological 
change. They exist, and always have existed, in all 
branches of the economy, and the communications 
industries are no exception. These forces are those 
exaggerated drives for power and profit which have 
tended to restrict competition and to promote mo- 
nopoly throughout the private enterprise system. As 
in other industries, the means employed in specific 
instances have varied all the way from complicated 
economic pressures down to the simple instruments 
of physical violence. 

Hearst and McCormick fought an epic newsstand 
war in Chicago early in the present century, which 
involved not only the destruction of papers but also 
the shooting of employees. These battles, and the 
private armies which fought on either side, were a 
factor in promoting the gang warfare which has dis- 
tressed the city since. Violence as a curb on competi- 


tion has not, however, been confined to Chicago. The 
New York papers, including the Times and the Her- 
aid Tribune, had newsstand fights in the thirties; and 
PM faced serious difficulties in finding a place on the 

Potential competitors have divided territory as 
Hearst, Gannett, and Block did in upstate New York 
and as motion picture theaters have done elsewhere. 
Small publishers are now complaining that giant con- 
cerns, such as Time-Life and Curtis, have pre-empted 
paper stocks and printing facilities under long-term 
contracts. In recent litigation the Associated Press 
was compelled to give up a practice which the Su- 
preme Court found monopolistic, since it permitted 
one publisher to deny the Association's service to a 
competitor. Antitrust actions, now on appeal, against 
the eight great motion picture companies are de- 
signed to separate the control of production from 
exhibition, a combination which is claimed to amount 
to monopoly. These companies have produced 80 per 
cent of American feature films and distributed 95 
per cent of the films reaching the public. 


Monopolistic practices, together with the cost of 
machinery and the momentum of big, going con- 
cerns, have made it hard for new ventures to enter 
the field of mass communications. 5 

5 This is especially true in the newspaper, magazine, and radio net- 
work fields; not so much so in book publishing and radio station owner- 


Although there is no such thing as a going price 
for a great city newspaper, it is safe to assume that it 
would cost somewhere between five and ten million 
dollars to build a new metropolitan daily to success. 
The investment required for a new newspaper in a 
medium-sized city is estimated at three-quarters of 
a million to several million; for a small-town paper, 
$25,000-$100,000. Radio stations have been sold at 
figures well over a million dollars, though such prices 
must include, in the words of Commissioner Durr, 
"something [the sellers] do not own and have no 
right to sell; namely, the use of a radio channel/' The 
equity needed for a new feature motion picture 
producing company would probably be at least 
$100,000, but this is merely a shoestring; one cannot 
sensibly initiate a producing unit without a contract 
with one of the major distributors. A publisher should 
not start a magazine aimed at the mass market unless 
he is prepared to lose two or three million dollars at 
the outset. On the other hand, a book publishing 
house might be established for as little as $100,000. 

Our survey of the instruments and the organization 
of the communications industry leaves us with cer- 
tain questions. To what extent has the reduction in 
the number of units of the press reduced variety? 
Has the reduction in the number of units cut down 
the opportunity to reach an audience on the part of 
those who have something to say? Has the struggle 
for power and profit been carried to such a point in 


this field that the public interest has suffered? Have 
the units of the press, by becoming big business, lost 
their representative character and developed a com- 
mon bias the bias of the large investor and em- 
ployer? Can the press in the present crisis rise to its 
responsibility as an essential instrument for carrying 
on the political and social life of a nation and a world 
of nations seeking understanding? If not, will its 
irresponsibility deprive it of its freedom? 

These questions require an examination of the 
actual performance of the American press today. 



PRIVATE enterprise in the field of communica- 
tions has great achievements to its credit. The 
American press probably reaches as high a percent- 
age of the population as that of any other country. Its 
technical equipment is certainly the best in the world. 
It has taken the lead in the introduction of many new 
techniques which have enormously increased the 
speed and the variety of communications. Whatever 
its shortcomings, the American press is less venal 
and less subservient to political and economic pres- 
sure than that of many other countries. The leading 
organs of the American press have achieved a stand- 
ard of excellence unsurpassed anywhere in the world. 
It is necessary to keep these general comments in 
mind in order to see the criticisms which follow in the 
proper perspective. 

The economic logic of private enterprise forces 
most units of the mass communications industry to 
seek an ever larger audience. 1 The result is an omni- 

1 It oversimplifies the business formula to state it merely as "number 
of subscriber-listeners determines advertising rate and volume and 
these, in turn, determine income and profits. The income levels and 
specialized types of reader-listeners for a particular medium serve as 


bus product which includes something for every- 

The communications industry, in building this 
omnibus, has not introduced new material into com- 
munication. It has transferred to mass communica- 
tion what had formerly passed from person to person 
as gossip, rumor, and oral discussion. The oldest mass 
medium of which we have record, the Acta diurna, 
an official bulletin board publishing the news in the 
Rome of the first Caesars, was an omnibus vehicle 
including sports, crime, and other sensational events 
as well as news regarding public affairs and official 
propaganda. So, too, in England, when newspapers 
were strictly limited to serious intelligence for a small 
reading public, there was a literature of handbills 
and pamphlets specializing in crime news. 

The American newspaper is now as much a me- 
dium of entertainment, specialized information, and 
advertising as it is of news. A solid evening of radio 
adds up to something like the reading of a mass-cir- 
culation newspaper except that the percentage of 
reporting and discussion of public affairs is even 
lower. It goes as low as zero in the case of some local 
stations, as low as 2 per cent in many, and up to 10 
per cent in some network affiliates. The magazines of 
largest circulation provide a mixed menu of print, 
pictures, stories, articles, and gossip, to entertain and 

specialized targets for advertising specific commodities, quite apart 
from the gross numbers of reader- listeners. 


inform persons of all ages and tastes, with advertising 
occupying half or more of each issue. The motion 
picture, as everybody knows, has developed mainly 
and avowedly as a medium of mass entertainment. 

We see, then, that information and discussion 
regarding public affairs are only a part, and often a 
minor part, of the output of the communications in- 
dustry. On the other hand, such information and dis- 
cussion as are included reach a far larger audience 
because of the low price which advertising and mass 
circulation make possible. 2 

Information and discussion regarding public af- 
fairs, carried as a rider on the omnibus of mass com- 
munication, take on the character of the other pas- 
sengers and become subject to the same laws that 
governed their selection: such information and dis- 
cussion must be shaped so that they will pay their 
own way by attracting the maximum audience. 


Hence the word "news" has come to mean some- 
thing different from important new information. 
When a journalist says that a certain event is news, 
be does not mean that it is important in itself. Often 
it is; but about as often it is not. The journalist means 
by news something that has happened within the 

2 The commercial impulse is not the only one which drives the 
communications industry toward larger and larger audiences. Anybody 
who has anything to say wants to say it to as many people as possible. 
Countries with government-owned radio, for example, tend to adopt the 
device of an omnibus product, with simplified and dramatized content, 


last few hours which will attract the interest of the 
customers. The criteria of interest are recency or 
firstness, proximity, combat, human interest, and 
novelty. Such criteria limit accuracy and significance. 

The eager pursuit of these qualities is undoubtedly 
captivating to the participants, but to the world at 
large it seems often to lead to unfortunate excesses. 
The unauthorized "scoops" at the end of the war, 
with announcements prematurely made only to be 
awkwardly withdrawn by the press associations and 
radio networks unsettled people's confidence in the 
dependability of these news sources and marred the 
generally good war record of the press in safeguard- 
ing important announcements. 

To attract the maximum audience, the press em- 
phasizes the exceptional rather than the representa- 
tive, the sensational rather than the significant. Many 
activities of the utmost social consequence lie below 
the surface of what are conventionally regarded as 
reportable incidents: more power machinery; fewer 
men tending machines; more hours of leisure; more 
schooling per child; decrease of intolerance; success- 
ful negotiation of labor contracts; increase of par- 
ticipation in music through the schools; increase in 
the sale of books of biography and history. 

In most news media such matters are crowded out 
by stories of night-club murders, race riots, strike 
violence, and quarrels among public officials. The 
Commission does not object to the reporting of these 


incidents but to the preoccupation of the press with 
them. The press is preoccupied with them to such an 
extent that the citizen is not supplied the information 
and discussion he needs to discharge his responsibil- 
ities to the community. 

The effort to attract the maximum audience means 
that each news account must be written to catch 
headlines. The result is not a continued story of the 
life of a people, but a series of vignettes, made to 
seem more significant than they really are. The sum 
of such discontinuous parts does not equal the whole, 
because the parts have not been represented in their 
actual size and color in relation to the whole. 

This was illustrated at the San Francisco Confer- 
ence. This gathering necessarily followed a course 
governed by protocol; it involved proposal and coun- 
terproposal, preparation of texts, amendments and 
revisions, and eventual agreement by compromise. 

On many days during the weeks the Conference 
was in session there was nothing to report. But the 
reporters had to send in their stories. Somehow there 
had to be news. The result on the lower levels was a 
series of personal items modeled after the Hollywood 
fan magazine and on the higher levels a distorted 
account of what took place. Because drama and ten- 
sion were demanded by the editorial desks back 
home, drama and tension were manufactured at San 
Francisco. Hence calm was turned into the calm- 
before- the-storm. Silence became the silence-of-im- 


pending-conflict. The passage of time became a 
portentous period of delay. So completely was the 
task of manufacturing suspense performed that, when 
after some weeks an acceptable charter was signed, 
the effect on newspaper readers was one of incredu- 
lous surprise. (A detailed study of the treatment 
given the Conference by the press has been made by 
Milton D. Stewart of the Commission staff and will 
be published under the title, The American Press and 
the San Francisco Conference. ) 

The worst offenders in this direction are to be 
found among the newspaper columnists and radio 
commentators. The members of this craft have come 
to perform an indispensable function in American 
public discussion. But they must attract the maximum 
audience, too. Some of them have thought that the 
way to do this is to supply the public with keyhole 
gossip, rumor, character assassination, and lies. 


People seldom want to read or hear what does not 
please them; they seldom want others to read or hear 
what disagrees with their convictions or what pre- 
sents an unfavorable picture of groups they belong 
to. When such groups are organized, they let the 
press know their objections to remarks concerning 
them. The press is therefore caught between its de- 
sire to please and extend its audience and its desire to 
give a picture of events and people as they really are. 


The motion picture industry offers the most elabo- 
rate example of accommodation to the pressure of 
the audience. ( The Motion Picture Code is described 
in a study by Ruth Inglis, a member of the Commis- 
sion staff, published by the Commission under the 
title, Freedom of the Movies. ) This accommodation 
may not have gone quite so far as the present Code 
executive says it would have to go to satisfy all pro- 
testors: it has not limited the villain of the screen to 
"a native-born, white, American citizen, without a 
job, and without any political, social, religious, or 
fraternal affiliation of any kind/' But pressure groups, 
because they have or are thought to have influence on 
attendance, have shaped the motion picture to their 
desires. Hollywood's efforts to develop the docu- 
mentary film may be thwarted by its habit of yielding 
to this kind of intimidation. 

Every branch of the communications industry is 
subject to the same sort of pressure. Publishers who 
stick to their guns have suffered for it. The managing 
editor of one of the principal papers of the country 
testified before the Commission that in his opinion 
his publication took a drop of more than 50,000 in 
circulation because of a policy displeasing to a well- 
organized pressure group. 

It would be a mistake to assume that pressure is 
always bad just because it is pressure. Testimony be- 
fore the Commission reveals that pressure groups 
often correct unconscious bias or mistakes and bring 


into view neglected areas of discussion. But the 
power of these groups and the importance of the mass 
media raise a serious question, to which we shall 
later return: How can a medium of communication 
which almost by definition must strive to please 
everybody perform the function which it should per- 
form today? 


The agencies of mass communication are big busi- 
ness, and their owners are big businessmen. The 
American consumers just prior to the war paid the 
forty thousand mass communication establishments 
nearly two and a half billion dollars for their services, 
representing one dollar out of every twenty-seven 
spent that year for all goods and services. The press 
is a large employer of labor. With its total wage and 
salary bill in the same year nearly a billion dollars, 
it provided about 4 per cent of the country's total 
salary and wage expenditures. The newspapers alone 
have more than 150,000 employees. The press is con- 
nected with other big businesses through the adver- 
tising of these businesses, upon which it depends for 
the major part of its revenue. The owners of the press, 
like the owners of other big businesses, are bank di- 
rectors, bank borrowers, and heavy taxpayers in the 
upper brackets. 

As William Allen White put it: "Too often the pub- 
lisher of an American newspaper has made his money 
in some other calling than journalism. He is a rich 


man seeking power and prestige. He has the country 
club complex. The business manager of this absentee 
owner quickly is afflicted with the country club point 
of view. Soon the managing editor's wife nags him 
into it. And they all get the unconscious arrogance of 
conscious wealth. Therefore it is hard to get a modern 
American newspaper to go the distance necessary to 
print all the news about many topics/' In the last 
thirty years, in Mr. White's opinion, newspapers 
"have veered from their traditional position as leaders 
of public opinion to mere peddlers and purveyors of 

news the newspapers have become commercial 

enterprises and hence fall into the current which is 
merging commercial enterprises along mercantile 

The same point is made with equal force by an- 
other distinguished editor, Virginius Dabney of the 
Richmond Times-Dispatch writing in the Saturday 
Review of Literature: "Today newspapers are Big 
Business, and they are run in that tradition. The pub- 
lisher, who often knows little about the editorial side 
of the operation, usually is one of the leading business 
men in his community, and his editorial page, under 
normal circumstances, strongly reflects that point of 
view. Sometimes he gives his editor a free hand but 
far oftener he does not. He looks upon the paper pri- 
marily as a 'property' rather than as an instrument for 
public service/' The typical American publisher, Mr. 
Dabney continues, "considers the important part of 

the paper to be the business management, and is con- 
vinced that so long as high salaries and lavish ex- 
penditures are made available to that management, 
the editorial department can drag along under a 
schedule of too much work and too little pay. Of 
course, such a publisher sees that the editorials in 
his paper are 'sound/ which is to say that they con- 
form to his own weird views of society, and are largely 

Neither indictment is of universal application nor 
was it intended by its author to be so. There are, as 
Mr. Dabney says, "brilliant and honorable excep- 
tions/' But another highly respected editor, Erwin D. 
Canham of the Christian Science Monitor, thinks 
upper-bracket ownership and its big-business char- 
acter important enough to stand at the head of his 
list of the "short-comings of today's American news- 

The published charges of distortion in the press 
resulting from the bias of its owners fall into the cate- 
gories that might be expected. In 1935 the American 
Newspaper Publishers Association condemned the 
proposed Child Labor Amendment. The A.N.P.A. 
action with regard to the child labor provision of 
N.R.A. was characterized by the St . Louis Star-Times 
as "a disgrace to the newspaper industry." Bias is 
claimed against consumer co-operatives, against food 
and drug regulation, against Federal Trade Commis- 
sion orders designed to suppress fraudulent advertis- 


ing, and against F.C.C. regulations affecting news- 
paper-owned broadcasting stations. Other claims in- 
volve affiliations with suppliers of raw paper stock 
and their affiliations with electric power companies. 
Still others arise from the ownership of outside busi- 
nesses by the owners of the press. Many people be- 
lieve that the press is biased in matters of national 
fiscal policy. 


One of the criticisms repeatedly made is that the 
press is dominated by its advertisers. The evidence of 
dictation of policy by advertisers is not impressive. 
Such dictation seems to occur among the weaker 
units. As a newspaper becomes financially stable, it 
becomes more independent and tends to resist pres- 
sure from advertisers.^ 

A recent illustration indicates the kind of pressure 
that may be exerted and the place it is likely to be 
applied. The American Press Association, advertis- 
ing representative for about four thousand weeklies 
and small-town dailies, obtained from the United 
States Steel Corporation and American Iron and 
Steel Institute a big order of "policy" advertising in 
connection with the steel strike last winter, which 
was placed in fourteen hundred small-town news- 
papers. The advertising representative, thereupon, 
wrote a letter to the fourteen hundred publishers say- 
ing: "We recommended that your newspaper be put 


on their [Steel Institute] schedule, as the best terri- 
tory; and we are counting on you to give them all the 
support that your good judgment dictates. This is 
your chance to show the steel people what the rural 
press can do for them. Go to it, and pave the way for 
more national advertising." 8 

The radio industry has peculiar problems in rela- 
tion to advertising. Fewer than a hundred and fifty 
advertisers now provide all but 3 or 4 per cent of the 
income of the radio networks, and fewer than fifty 
provide half the total. The concentration of radio 
sponsorship goes further than that. Commissioner 
Durr of the F.C.C. is authority for the statement that 
in 1943 one-eighth of N.B.C/s business came from 
one advertiser, that two advertisers supplied one- 
fourth and ten advertisers 60 per cent of N.B.C/s in- 
come. One advertiser gave the A.B.C. network one- 
seventh of its income; two gave it a quarter, and ten 
more than 60 per cent. In 1945 five companies ac- 
counted for nearly a quarter of the network income. 

The large advertisers on the air use a small num- 
ber of advertising agencies; a dozen and a half pro- 
vide about half the income of the three networks 
reporting these facts. These agencies not only place 
the contracts, but also write, direct, and produce the 
programs. The great consumer industriesfood, to- 

8 It should be added that, according to Editor and Publisher, fewer 
than 15 per cent of the papers receiving this advertisement carried 
editorials or news stories on the subject. 


bacco, drugs, cosmetics, soap, confectionery, and 
soft drinks, which in 1945 gave the networks three- 
quarters of their income determine what the Amer- 
ican people shall hear on the air. 

Although the station owner is legally responsible 
to the government for what goes out over his station, 
he gets a large part of it from the networks. The net- 
works get their programs from the advertising agen- 
cies. The advertising agencies are interested in just 
one thing, and that is selling goods. We are all famil- 
iar with the result, which is such a mixture of adver- 
tising with the rest of the program that one cannot 
be listened to without the other. (A special study of 
the radio industry by Llewellyn White of the Com- 
mission staff, entitled The American Radio, is being 
published by the Commission. ) 

Advertising forms almost half the subject matter 
of the three media which carry it/It serves a useful 
purpose in telling people about goods that are for 
sale. Sales talk relies heavily on sheer repetition of 
stimuli, presents favorable facts only, exaggerates 
values, and suggests a romantic world part way be- 
tween reality and a materialistic Utopia. It does not 
discuss a product. It "sells" it. A 

Much of what passes for public discussion is sales 
talk. At its best, however, public discussion can be a 
two-way process, with listening, response, and inter- 
change, in which some at least of the participants are 
genuinely seeking for answers and feeling their way 
toward those answers which are supported by the 


weight of the evidence. The American faith is that 
this is the way public opinion should be formed; it 
should not be manufactured by a central authority 
and "sold" to the public. 

People are used to these different kinds of dis- 
course and often have no difficulty in distinguishing 
between them. They do not expect to rely on un- 
named "medical experts" indorsing a toothpaste as 
they would upon a named authority writing a serious 
article on a medical subject in a serious publication. 
But if this distinction is to be maintained, sales talk 
should be plainly labeled as such; whether for tooth- 
pastes or tariffs, cosmetics or cosmic reforms, devices 
for reducing waists or raising prices. It should be 
separated from material which is not advertising or 
advocacy; and the control of the two kinds of content 
should be, so far as possible, in separate hands. 


One of the most effective ways of improving the 
press is blocked by the press itself. By a kind of un- 
written law the press ignores the errors and misrep- 
resentations, the lies and scandals, of which its mem- 
bers are guilty. The retraction by John O'Donnell in 
the Washington Times-Herald and New York Daily 
News of his widely resented statement that the victim 
of General Patton's slapping incident was a Jewish 
soldier and that because of this the General's later 
removal from area control in Germany was urged by 
prominent American leaders, also Jews, was men- 

tioned by only one other daily newspaper in New 
York. Mayor LaGuardia, when he was in office, 
freely criticized the press and was as freely quoted 
in the New York papers. After he became a columnist 
and commentator, he specialized in criticism of what 
he regarded as the inaccuracy and misrepresentation 
of the press. But he ceased to be news. He was met 
with almost complete silence. 

If the shortcomings of the American press can best 
be overcome by the efforts of the press itself, the 
abandonment of the practice of refraining from 
mutual comment and the adoption instead of a reso- 
lute policy of criticism of the press by the press are 
indicated. 4 


Of the towns in the United States with a popula- 
tion of 1,000 or more, all are reached by newspapers, 
mail, telephone, and telegraph, and almost all have 
motion pictures and direct mail service. This is a 
notable record of achievement. Radio falls far short 
of this. Although almost all these communities have 
secondary radio service, only one in fifteen has pri- 
mary service. 

Quantity is in some ways the enemy of the kind of 
service the country needs. Radio and motion pic- 
tures, and to some extent newspapers, tend to offer 
the fare which will appeal to the largest number of 
people. But there are large minorities who desire the 

4 A policy of mutual comment might also foster two-way discussion 
of public issues. 


fulness of a newspaper of record and the distin- 
guished quality of the best foreign motion pictures. 
These, as well as the omnibus product, should be 
available for all who want them. At present they are 
obtainable only in a few metropolitan centers. 

Outside the United States the coverage of mass 
communications is much less complete than it is in 
this country. Whole populations are cut off from the 
interchange of news and discussion by poverty, by 
censorship, and by poor physical facilities for inter- 
communication. Invention in the field of communi- 
cations is plainly on the side of more words and pic- 
tures going farther at lower costs. But the full use of 
the new instruments to build a world community will 
require a clear national policy and a great joint effort 
on the part of government and private agencies. ( In- 
ternational communication is discussed in detail in 
Peoples Speaking to Peoples, by White and Leigh, 
one of the special studies published by the Commis- 
sion. ) 


Our society needs an accurate, truthful account of 
the day's events. We need to know what goes on in 
our own locality, region, and nation. We need re- 
liable information about all other countries. We need 
to supply other countries with such information 
about ourselves. We need a market place for the ex- 
change of comment and criticism regarding public 
affairs. We need to reproduce on a gigantic scale the 


open argument which characterized the village gath- 
ering two centuries ago. We need to project across all 
groups, regions, and nations a picture of the con- 
stituent elements of the modern world. We need to 
clarify the aims and ideals of our community and 
every other. 

These needs are not being met. The news is twisted 
by the emphasis on firstness, on the novel and sensa- 
tional; by the personal interests of owners; and by 
pressure groups. Too much of the regular output of 
the press consists of a miscellaneous succession of 
stories and images which have no relation to the 
typical lives of real people anywhere. Too often the 
result is meaninglessness, flatness, distortion, and the 
perpetuation of misunderstanding among widely 
scattered groups whose only contact is through these 

As we have said, the American press has great tech- 
nical achievements to its credit. It has displayed re- 
markable ingenuity in gathering its raw material and 
in manufacturing and distributing its finished prod- 
uct. Nor would we deny that extraordinarily high 
quality of performance has been achieved by the 
leaders in each field of mass communications. 5 When 
we look at the press as a whole, however, we must 
conclude that it is not meeting the needs of our so- 
ciety. The Commission believes that this failure of 
the press is the greatest danger to its freedom. 

6 The periodic awards for excellence in each medium repeatedly go 
to the same newspapers, stations, producers, writers, and oirectors. 


THE Commission has repeatedly recorded its 
conviction that the press itself should accept 
responsibility for performance in the public interest. 
In several other walks of life the occupational group 
is organized for this purpose, and erring members are 
disciplined by the group itself. We shall now exam- 
ine the possibilities of similar organization and similar 
self -discipline in the press. 


The most elaborate scheme of self-regulation 
among the agencies of mass communication is found 
in the motion picture industry. The Motion Picture 
Association of America 1 has a code which is obeyed 
and enforced. 

The Association was formed and the code adopted 
to meet the threat of censorship. The points covered 
by the code and by the administration of it show that 
the aim is to control the content of films so that they 
will pass the state boards of censorship and foreign 
censors and will not antagonize pressure groups. 

1 Its original name was Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of 

The code administration attends to the elimination 
of shots of adulterous and abnormal sex activities, of 
bodily exposure beyond certain limits, of obscenity, 
profanity, details of criminal behavior, brutality, etc. 
It insists on formulas by which morality must always 
emerge superior to immorality; the official agents of 
law and respectability must not be ridiculed; and the 
nationals of all countries must be inoffensively repre- 

This self-regulating agency has limited purposes. 
It calculates the minimal prohibitions necessary to 
permit films to circulate without censorship and 
without boycott. The results indicate that the cal- 
culation is fairly exact. 

The sanction behind the code is the existence of 
the state and municipal boards. of censorship and 
organized pressure groups, plus a $25,000 fine on 
producers and distributors for violations. But the 
main basis for its observance in the past was the eco- 
nomic influence of the major producer-distributors 
over the theaters. Since the affiliated theaters would 
not show pictures unless they had the approval of the 
Code Administration, almost all the independent 
producers routed their pictures through that office us 
a matter of discretion. Antitrust litigation now in 
progress may change this control over theaters and 
so undermine the industry's scheme of self -regula- 

During the twenties the movies reflected the cur- 


rent uncertainty of morals as well as suffered the 
growing-pains of an art which had shot upward in 
public esteem much faster than it could adjust itself 
to public responsibility. By 1934 the Association, un- 
der the pressure of active criticism, became a regula- 
tory body which could regulate. It put a stop to the 
salacious and crudely sensational pictures which had 
been the target of consumers' boycotts and gave the 
industry for the first time some public standing. 

Such and no more was and still is the purpose of 
the Production Code. As Will Hays and the great 
majority of the producers conceived it, Hollywood 
was simply an entertainment industry, marketing its 
wares on the time-honored principle of giving the 
public what it wanted, subject only to the controls of 
libel, indecency, and the danger of offending impor- 
tant groups of potential customers. Therefore it is 
useless to look to the code as it is now constituted to 
establish a higher level of group responsibility the 
responsibility to project pictures of the component 
parts of society to one another, with their ways of 
living, ideals, defects, and special outlook. The code 
set standards of acceptability, not of responsibility; 
and the standards are minima, not goals of adequate 
or ideal performance. 

Organized self-regulation in the motion picture 
industry has achieved the purpose it was established 
to serve. But that purpose was a limited one, and one 
that has not hitherto had much to do with making the 


motion picture the kind of medium of mass communi- 
cation which it could become and ought to be. More- 
over, the success of self -regulation in the motion pic- 
ture industry was made possible by conditions in that 
industry which do not obtain in others. Those condi- 
tions are the boards of censorship, militant pressure 
groups, and the concentration of economic power in 
a few large companies. How important these special 
conditions are is shown by the failure of self -regula- 
tion in other branches of the communications busi- 


The radio problem is entirely different from that 
of the movies. Radio stations are licensed by the 
Federal Communications Commission with the pro- 
viso that they must operate in the public interest, 
convenience, and necessity. At the same time the 
Federal Communications Act prohibits the F.C.C. 
from censoring programs. The F.C.C. was early in 
the field, and state regulatory bodies have not ap- 
peared in radio as they did in motion pictures. 

The National Association of Broadcasters has 
never included all the stations. It has no machinery 
for the censorship of programs. Although it has a 
written code, the only sanction behind it is a warn- 
ing, which may be followed by ejection from mem- 
bership. As membership carries no definite privileges 
with it, and is a voluntary act of occupational good 
citizenship, stations or networks which do not want 
to obey its code need not join the N.A.B. Since the 


N.A.B. depends on membership for its revenue and 
moral strength, it has not to date been zealous to 
enforce its code. There seem to be no cases of en- 
forcement on record. 

The main activities of the N.A.B. have been of the 
kind in which trade associations usually engage. It 
has sought to protect station and network interests in 
negotiating with the American Society of Composers, 
Authors, and Publishers, with labor unions, with the 
F.C.C., and with Congress. From time to time it has 
wrestled with some of radio's important problems as 
a medium of mass communication, e.g., access to it 
by various groups, the relation of advertising to news 
and discussion, the right of reply to personal criti- 
cisms, etc. As yet it has not solved these problems. 

The radio has not required a code to protect it 
from censorship and boycott. The Communications 
Act has so far protected it from censorship. The ad- 
vertisers have protected it from boycott. The adver- 
tisers have done a more effective job than any code 
could do, since an advertiser will not risk making a 
single enemy through his radio program. A soap 
manufacturer will permit nothing derogatory to the 
Chinese on a program he sponsors soap is used in 
laundries. The really effective radio code is not the 
innocuous declarations of the N.A.B.; it is the regula- 
tion of content by the advertisers. 

The desire to reach the largest possible audience 
and to avoid the slightest risk of offending any po- 
tential customer has produced the kind of radio we 
have today. 


Until some months ago radio had received no 
threat from the F.C.C. regarding standards of opera- 
tion in the public interest. Now the F.C.C. has said 
that, unless broadcasters themselves deal with over- 
commercialism, the government may be forced to 
act. So far this challenge has produced little from the 
N.A.B. except outraged cries about freedom of 
speech and suggestions for a new code, which, of 
course, would not go to the heart of the problem. 


The American Newspaper Publishers Association 
represents the owners. They are the men who have 
the power. The group, at least as far as its public 
record shows, has not concerned itself with questions 
affecting the role of a free press in a free society but 
has dealt almost exclusively with the business prob- 
lems of the industry. 

The American Society of Newspaper Editors is 
composed for the most part of employees. Its mem- 
bers are the editors of the major city dailies and some 
of the smaller city and town editors of distinction, 
including owners when owners and chief editors are 
the same. At an early meeting the Society drew up 
and adopted a code of ethics which, if followed, 
would have made the newspapers responsible car- 
riers of news and discussion. The only means of en- 
forcement was expulsion from the Society. Shortly 
after the code was adopted, a case of gross malprac- 


tice on the part of one of the members was reported. 
After the Society had deliberated long and painfully, 
the case was dropped. This settled the function of 
the code. 

The American Newspaper Guild is made up of 
reporters and subeditors, organized in some cases 
along with mechanical, business, and clerical em- 
ployees. When it started in the early thirties, it was 
a separate group of working, writing journalists, and 
there were hopes that it might establish itself as a 
professional society dedicated to raising standards. 
A number of factors, including the opposition of pub- 
lishers to the organization, led to an affiliation with 
the C.I.O. Since then the Guild has concentrated on 
union recognition and better salaries, hours, and 
working conditions. These are, of course, useful first 
steps in building professional competence and inde- 

In some Guild contracts there have been provisions 
protecting the by-line writer against printing any- 
thing under his name of which he does not approve. 
But the voluntary, if temporary, renunciation of the 
professional goals envisaged at the outset appears in 
the official declaration that the Guild "does not dis- 
pute [the right of the owners to make of their news- 
papers a vehicle of their own prejudices] even though 
the all-too-frequent distortions and suppression of 
news by large newspapers and press associations 
have made them less the aids to a truly free market in 
ideas than they ought to be in a democratic society. 


The Guild recognizes that newspaper proprietors 
have an absolute right to be careless, prejudiced and 
even wrongheaded, subject only to the right of the 
reader not to read or to read and discount." 2 


In the fields of books and magazines there is no sys- 
tem of self-regulation. Yet here the professional 
standards are certainly no lower perhaps they are 
higher 8 than in other branches of the communica- 
tions industry. The fact that these branches are as 
much or more professionalized than the others sug- 
gests that we must look to other methods of develop- 
ing professional ideals and attitudes than organiza- 
tions, codes, and disciplinary procedures. 


A profession is a group organized to perform a 
public service. There is usually a confidential relation 
to the recipient of the service, one of advice, guid- 
ance, and expert assistance, which makes the rule of 
caveat emptor peculiarly inappropriate. And there is 
an esprit de corps resting, among other things, on a 
common training and centering in the maintenance 
of standards. In theory, at least, the group seeks to 

2 Of some interest because they do exercise minimal powers of self- 
discipline are the White House and Congressional Press Gallery associa- 
tions. They have a definite accredited membership and eject any 
member who violates their simple codes, which include such things as 
publication of "off-the-record" remarks. This disciplinary action means 
ejection from the White House conferences and press galleries, an im- 
portant handicap for any Washington correspondent. 

8 The role of criticism of books, which is more intelligent and active 
than that of radio and motion pictures, doubtless is very important here. 


perform its service and to maintain the standards of 
the service even though more money could be made 
in ways that would endanger or sacrifice the con- 
fidential relation and the quality of the work. The 
code of the legal profession has almost the force of 
law; unless the courts rule that the Bar Association 
was wrong in a particular instance, a man found 
guilty by the bar of violating the ethical code of 
lawyers will not be permitted to continue to earn his 
living by practicing the profession. The medical 
profession has almost the same control over its mem- 

No public service is more important than the 
service of communications. But the element of per- 
sonal responsibility, which is of the essence of the 
organization of such professions as law and medicine, 
is missing in communications. Here the writer works 
for an employer, and the employer, not the writer, 
takes the responsibility. 4 In the mass media, except 
at the higher levels of writing, the identity of the 
individual writer's product tends to be merged in a 
joint result, as in newspapers, where it is divided 
among reporter, copy desk, and makeup desk. The 
effective organization of writers on professional lines 
is therefore almost impossible. 

But if professional organization is not to be looked 
for, professional ideals and attitudes may still be 
demanded. Those ideals and attitudes in the profes- 

4 This is not true of the writing of books and is true only to a limited, 
though apparently increasing, extent in magazines. 


sions of law, medicine, and divinity are cultivated by 
the professional school of those disciplines. They act 
as independent centers of criticism. The better they 
are, the more independent and the more critical they 
are. The schools of journalism have not yet accepted 
this obligation. With few exceptions they fall short of 
professional standards. Most of them devote them- 
selves to vocational training, and even here they are 
not so effective as they should be. The kind of train- 
ing a journalist needs most today is not training in the 
tricks and machinery of the, trade. If he is to be a 
competent judge of public affairs, he needs the 
broadest and most liberal education. The schools of 
journalism as a whole have not yet successfully 
worked out the method by which their students may 
acquire this education. 

The individual responsibility of the owner or man- 
ager of any unit of the press will always be inescap- 
able and great. That responsibility is to his conscience 
and the common good. Lawyers and doctors have a 
similar responsibility their conscience has been in 
some degree institutionalized. The profession, as 
such, has a conscience. That is what makes it a pro- 
fession. The difficulties in the way of the formal or- 
ganization of the press into a profession are perhaps 
insurmountable. But, keeping in mind the inescap- 
able individual responsibility, society should see to 
it that every effort is made to develop a more institu- 
tionalized or communal responsibility. 




r I 1 HE thirteen recommendations made in this 
-*- chapter reflect the conviction, stated at the be- 
ginning of this report, that there are no simple solu- 
tions of the problem of freeing the press from the 
influences which now prevent it from supplying the 
communication of news and ideas needed by the kind 
of society we have and the kind of society we desire. 
These recommendations have been grouped ac- 
cording to the source from which action must come 
government (including the courts), the press itself, 
and the public. We consider it particularly important 
to lay before the press and the public the measures 
which each of them may take in order that the press 
may give the service which the country requires and 
which newspapers, magazines, books, motion pic- 
tures, and radio, as now technically equipped, are 
capable of furnishing. The more the press and tjje 
public are willing to do, the less will be left for the 
state; but we place our recommendations as to legal 
action first because freedom of the press is most 
commonly thought of in relation to the activities of 



We do not believe that the fundamental problems 
of the press will be solved by more laws or by govern- 
mental action. The Commission places its main re- 
liance on the mobilization of the elements of society 
acting directly on the press and not through govern- 
mental channels. 

No democracy, however, certainly not the Amer- 
ican democracy, will indefinitely tolerate concentra- 
tions of private power irresponsible and strong 
enough to thwart the aspirations of the people. Even- 
tually governmental power will be used to break up 
private power, or governmental power will be used 
to regulate private power if private power is at once 
great and irresponsible. 

Our society requires agencies of mass communica- 
tion. They are great concentrations of private power. 
If they are irresponsible, not even the First Amend- 
ment will protect their freedom from governmental 
control. The amendment will be amended. 

In the judgment of the Commission everyone con- 
cerned with the freedom of the press and with the 
future of democracy should put forth every effort to 
make the press accountable, for, if it does not become 
so of its own motion, the power of government will 
be used, as a last resort, to force it to be so. 

The American people recognize that there are 
some things the government should do. For example, 


Americans place their trust in private enterprise, but 
they do not object to having the government run the 
post office. They believe in individual initiative, but 
they do not carry the doctrine of self-help so far as to 
dispense with courts of law. Though we may like to 
think of government merely as a policeman, we 
know that it does play a positive role at many points 
in our society and that in any highly industrialized 
society it must do so. 

Under our system the legislature may pass no law 
abridging the freedom of the press. But this has never 
been thought to mean that the general laws of the 
country were inapplicable to the press. The First 
Amendment was intended to guarantee free expres- 
sion, not to create a privileged industry. Nor has the 
First Amendment been interpreted to prevent the 
adoption of special laws governing certain types of 
utterance. Nor is there anything in the First Amend- 
ment or in our political tradition to prevent the gov- 
ernment from participating in mass communications: 
to state its own case, to supplement private sources 
of information, and to propose standards for private 
emulation. Such participation by government is not 
dangerous to the freedom of the press. 

The principal aim of this section of our report is 
not to recommend more governmental action but to 
clarify the role of government in relation to mass 


1. We recommend that the constitutional guaran- 
tees of the freedom of the press be recognized as in- 
cluding the radio and motion pictures. 

In view of the approaching advent of the broad- 
cast facsimile newspaper and the development of the 
newsreel and the documentary film, constitutional 
safeguards for the radio and the motion picture are 
needed more than ever. We believe that such regula- 
tion of these media as is desirable can and should be 
conducted within the limitations which the federal 
and state constitutions now place upon the regula- 
tion of newspapers and books. 1 

In the case of motion pictures this recommenda- 
tion would not abolish state boards of review; it 
would require them to operate within the First 
Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court. 

In the case of radio this recommendation would 
give constitutional support to the prohibition against 
censorship in the Communications Act. It would not 
prevent the Federal Communications Commission 
from denying a license on the ground that the appli- 
cant was unprepared to serve the public interest, 
convenience, and necessity. Nor would it prevent the 
Commission from considering, in connection with an 
application for renewal, whether the applicant had 
kept the promises he made when the license was 
granted and had actually served the public interest, 

1 The new constitution of Missouri protects "freedom of expression 
by whatever means." 


convenience, and necessity. This recommendation is 
intended to strengthen the prohibition against cen- 
sorship, not to guarantee licensees a perpetual fran- 
chise regardless of their performance. The air belongs 
to the public, not to the radio industry. 

2. We recommend that government facilitate new 
ventures in the communications industry, that it foster 
the introduction of new techniques, that it maintain 
competition among large units through the antitrust 
laws, but that those laws be sparingly used to break up 
such units, and that, where concentration is necessary 
in communications, the government endeavor to see to 
it that the public gets the benefit of such concentration. 

We accept the fact that some concentration must 
exist in the communications industry if the country 
is to have the service it needs. People need variety 
and diversity in mass communication; they must also 
have service, a quantity and quality of information 
and discussion which can often be supplied only by 
large units. 

The possibilities of evil inherent in concentration 
can be minimized by seeing to it that no artificial 
obstructions impede the creation and development 
of new units. In the communications industry it is 
difficult to start new units because of the large invest- 
ment required and because of the control of the 
existing units over the means of distribution. 

Little can be done by government or any other 


agency to reduce the cost of entering the industry 
except to adjust governmental charges, such as tax 
laws and postal rates, to facilitate new enterprises, 
and to prevent established interests from obstructing 
the introduction of new techniques. Tax laws and 
postal rates should be restudied with a view to dis- 
covering whether they do not discriminate against 
new, small businesses and in favor of large, well- 
established ones. 

As for new techniques, an invention like FM radio 
offers the possibility of greatly increasing quantity 
and diversity in broadcasting. The cost of the equip- 
ment is low, and the number of frequencies large. We 
believe that the Federal Communications Commis- 
sion should fully exploit the opportunity now before 
it and should prevent any greater concentration in 
FM radio than the service requires. 

Government can stop the attempt by existing units 
of the press to monopolize distribution outlets. The 
types of governmental action called for range from 
police protection and city ordinances which would 
make it possible for new newspapers and magazines 
to get on the newsstands to antitrust suits against 
motion picture companies which monopolize thea- 
ters. The main function of government in relation to 
the communications industry is to keep the channels 
open, and this means, in part, facilitating in every 
way short of subsidy the creation of new units in the 


The Commission believes that there should be 
active competition in the communications industry. 
It inclines to the view that the issue of the size of the 
units competing is not one which can best be dealt 
with by law. The antitrust laws can be invoked to 
maintain competition among large units and to pre- 
vent the exclusion of any unit from facilities which 
ought to be open to all; their use to force the break- 
ing-up of large units seems to us undesirable. 

Though there can be no question that the anti- 
trust laws apply to the communications industry, we 
would point out that these laws are extremely vague. 
They can be very dangerous to the freedom and the 
effectiveness of the press. They can be used to limit 
voices in opposition and to hinder the processes of 
public education. 

Since the Commission looks principally to the units 
of the press itself to take joint action to provide the 
diversity, quantity, and quality of information and 
discussion which a free society requires, it would not 
care to see such action blocked by the mistaken ap- 
plication of the antitrust laws. Honest efforts to raise 
standards, such as we suggest elsewhere in this chap- 
ter, 2 should not be thwarted, even though they result 
in higher costs. 

Since the need for service is the justification for 
concentration, the government should see to it that, 
where concentration exists, the service is rendered; 

2 Pp. 92 -96 below. 


it should see to it that the public gets the benefit of 
the concentration. For example, the Federal Com- 
munications Commission should explore the possi- 
bilities of requiring the radio networks to increase the 
number of their affiliated stations and of using clear- 
channel licenses as a means of serving all the less 
populous regions of the country. The extension of 
radio service of the quality supplied by the networks 
and the maintenance and multiplication of local sta- 
tions are of the first importance. There are only two 
ways of obtaining these results: they can be achieved 
by the acceptance of responsibility by the industry, 
or they can be achieved by government ownership. 
We prefer the former. 

3. As an alternative to the present remedy for libel, 
we recommend legislation by which the injured party 
might obtain a retraction or a restatement of the facts 
by the offender or an opportunity to reply. 

The only legal method by which a person injured 
by false statements in the press may vindicate his 
reputation is a civil action for damages. The remedy 
is expensive, difficult, and encumbered with tech- 
nicalities. Many injured persons hesitate to sue 
because of the "shadow of racketeering and black- 
mail which hangs over libel plaintiffs." 8 

8 Riesman, in Columbia Law Review, XLII, 1282, 1314-40. For a 
description of this remedy as well as for a more comprehensive discus- 
sion of the relation of government to the press, see the report to the 
Commission of one of its members, Zechariah Chafee, Jr., entitled 
Government and Mass Communications, to be published by the Univer- 
sity of Chicago Press. 

The proposed remedy should operate quickly 
while the issue is before the public. It should lead to 
an increase in the practice, now common among the 
responsible members of the press, of voluntarily cor- 
recting misstatements. It ought to diminish lying in 
the press. 

We are opposed to the group libel laws now under 
discussion in several states. We believe that an action 
for libel should be a civil suit brought by a person 
who can show that he, as an individual, was damaged 
by a false statement about him. We fear that, if an 
individual may sue or initiate a criminal prosecution, 
because a group he belongs to has been criticized 
falsely, the law might be used to suppress legitimate 
public controversy. 

The Commission has given extensive consideration 
to numerous suggested methods of reducing lying in 
the press by law. We insist that, morally considered, 
the freedom of the press is a conditional rightcon- 
ditional on the honesty and responsibility of writer, 
broadcaster, or publisher. A man who lies, intention- 
ally or carelessly, is not morally entitled to claim the 
protection of the First Amendment. The remedy for 
press lying, however, must go deeper than the law 
can go. We are reluctant to suggest governmental 
interference with the freedom of the press; we see 
many difficulties of enforcement; we do not find in 
the present situation justification for stronger legis- 
lation than that which we here propose. 


4. We recommend the repeal of legislation pro- 
hibiting expressions in favor of revolutionary changes 
in our institutions where there is no clear and present 
danger that violence will result from the expressions. 

The Supreme Court has held that expressions 
urging the overthrow of the government by force are 
within the protection of the First Amendment unless 
there is a clear and present danger that these expres- 
sions will lead to violence. We believe that this sound 
principle is violated by the peacetime sedition 
clauses of the Alien Registration Act of 1940 and by 
the various state syndicalism acts which make it a 
crime to advocate the overthrow of the government 
by force, irrespective of the probable effect of the 
statements. The really dangerous persons within the 
scope of these laws can be reached by the conspiracy 
statutes and the general criminal law. As applied to 
other persons, which is most likely to be the case, 
these laws are of dubious constitutionality and un- 
wise. Yet only a few of the agitators who are prose- 
cuted can succeed in getting before the Supreme 
Court. Consequently, so long as this legislation re- 
mains on the statute-books, its intimidating effect is 
capable of stifling political and economic discussion. 
These acts ought to be repealed. 

5. We recommend that the government, through 
the media of mass communication, inform the public 
of the facts with respect to its policies and of the pur- 


poses underlying those policies and that, to the extent 
that private agencies of mass communication are un- 
able or unwilling to supply such media to the govern- 
ment, the government itself may employ media of its 

We also recommend that, where the private agencies 
of mass communication are unable or unwilling to 
supply information about this country to a particular 
foreign country or countries, the government employ 
mass communication media of its own to supplement 
this deficiency. 

We should not think it worth while to make these 
recommendations if it were not for the fact that in 
recent years there have been increasingly strident 
charges that the government is exceeding its proper 
functions and wasting the taxpayers' money when it 
undertakes to inform the people in regard to its pro- 
gram or to supplement and correct the picture of this 
country which the press has projected to other parts 
of the world or which results from misinformation or 
lack of information. 

Doubtless some governmental officers have used 
their publicity departments for personal or partisan 
aggrandizement. But this evil is subject to correction 
by normal democratic processes and does not com- 
pare with the danger that the people of this country 
and other countries may, in the absence of official 
information and discussion, remain unenlightened 
on vital issues. 


In addition to supplying information at home and 
abroad, the government has special obligations in in- 
ternational communications* which are elaborated in 
Peoples Speaking to Peoples: to use its influence to 
reduce press rates all over the world; to obtain equal 
access to the news for all; to break down barriers to 
the free flow of information; and to collaborate with 
the United Nations in promoting the widest dissemi- 
nation of news and discussion by all the techniques 
which become available. 


The recommendations we have made for action 
by government, though they are minimal, could be 
reduced still further in the domestic field, at least, by 
the action of the press itself. Existing units of the 
press could abstain from attempts to monopolize dis- 
tribution outlets; they could insist that new tech- 
niques be made available and freely used; the press 
could of its own motion make it a rule that a person 
injured by a false statement should have an oppor- 
tunity to reply. We believe that these changes are 
bound to come through legislation if they do not 
come through the action of the press and that it 
would be the part of wisdom for the press to take 
these measures on its own initiative. 

The communications industry in the United States 
is and, in the opinion of the Commission, should re- 
main a private business. But it is a business affected 


with a public interest. The Commission does not 
believe that it should be regulated by government 
like other businesses affected with a public interest, 
such as railroads and telephone companies. The 
Commission hopes that the press itself will recognize 
its public responsibility and obviate governmental 
action to enforce it. 

It may be argued that the variety, quantity, and 
quality of information and discussion which we ex- 
pect from the press cannot be purveyed at a profit 
and that a business which cannot operate at a profit 
cannot last under a system of private enterprise. It 
has been said that, if the press is to continue as a 
private business, it can succeed only as other retailers 
succeed, that is, by giving the customers what they 
want. On this theory the test of public service is fi- 
nancial success. On this theory, too, the press is 
bound by what it believes to be the interests and 
tastes of the mass audience; these interests and tastes 
are discovered by finding out what the mass audience 
will buy. On this theory, if the press tries to rise 
higher than the interests and tastes of the mass audi- 
ence as they are revealed at the newsstands or at the 
box office, it will be driven into bankruptcy, and its 
existence as a private business will be at an end. 

We have weighed the evidence carefully and do 
not accept this theory. As the example of many ven- 
tures in the communications industry shows, good 
practice in the interest of public enlightenment is 


good business as well. The agencies of mass com- 
munication are not serving static wants. Year by year 
they are building and transforming the interests of 
the public. They have an obligation to elevate rather 
than to degrade them. 

The gist of the recommendations in this section of 
our report is that the press itself should assume the 
responsibility of providing the variety, quantity, and 
quality of information and discussion which the 
country needs. This seems to us largely a question of 
the way in which the press looks at itself. We suggest 
that the press look upon itself as performing a public 
service of a professional kind. Whatever may be 
thought of the conduct of individual members of the 
older, established professions, like law and medicine, 
each of these professions as a whole accepts a re- 
sponsibility for the service rendered by the profes- 
sion as a whole, and there are some things which a 
truly professional man will not do for money. 

1. We recommend that the agencies of mass com- 
munication accept the responsibilities of common car- 
riers of information and discussion. 

Those agencies of mass communication which 
have achieved a dominant position in their areas can 
exert an influence over the minds of their audience 
too powerful to be disregarded. We do not wish to 
break up these agencies, because to do so would 
break up the service they can render. We do not wish 


to have them owned or controlled by government. 
They must therefore themselves be hospitable to 
ideas and attitudes different from their own, and 
they must present them to the public as meriting its 
attention^ In no other way can the danger to the mind 
of democracy which is inherent in the present con- 
centration be avoided. 

2. We recommend that the agencies of mass com- 
munication assume the responsibility of financing new, 
experimental activities in their fields. 

Here we have in mind activities of high literary, 
artistic, or intellectual quality which do not give 
promise of immediate financial return but which may 
offer long-term rewards^ Only in a few metropolitan 
areas can the citizen easily gain access to a wide 
variety of motion pictures and radio programs. Else- 
where discriminating, serious minorities are prisoners 
of the estimate of mass taste made by the industry. 
Motion pictures, radio programs, newspapers, and 
magazines aimed at these minorities may not make 
money at the beginning. They require a considerable 
investment. They do not attract capital seeking quick 
profits. Nonprofit institutions can do something in 
this field, but they should not be expected to do the 
whole job. The responsibility of the industry for 
diversity and quality means that it should finance 
ventures of this kind from the profits of its other 


3. We recommend that the members of the press 
engage in vigorous mutual criticism. 

Professional standards are not likely to be achieved 
as long as the mistakes and errors, the frauds and 
crimes, committed by units of the press are passed 
over in silence by other members of the profession. 
As we indicated in chapter 5, the formal organization 
of the press into a profession, with power in the or- 
ganization to deprive an erring member of his liveli- 
hood, is unlikely and perhaps undesirable. We have 
repeatedly evidenced our desire that the power of 
government should not be invoked to punish the 
aberrations of the press. If the press is to be account- 
ableand it must be if it is to remain free its mem- 
bers must discipline one another by the only means 
they have available, namely, public criticism. 

4. We recommend that the press use every means 
that can be devised to increase the competence, inde- 
pendence, and effectiveness of its staff. 

The quality of the press depends in large part upon 
the capacity and independence of the working mem- 
bers in the lower ranks. At the present time their 
wages and prestige are low and their tenure precar- 
ious. Adequate compensation, adequate recognition, 
and adequate contracts seem to us an indispensable 
prerequisite to the development of a professional 


Elsewhere in this chapter 4 we shall refer to edu- 
cation for journalism. Here we would merely indi- 
cate that the press can do a good deal to improve the 
quality of its staff by promoting an intelligent edu- 
cational program, both for young people and for men 
and women who are already at work in the field. 
The type of educational experience provided for 
working journalists by the Nieman fellowships at 
Harvard seems to us to deserve extension, if not 
through private philanthropy, then with the finan- 
cial assistance of the press itself. 

5. We recommend that the radio industry take con- 
trol of its programs and that it treat advertising as it is 
treated by the best newspapers. 

Radio cannot become a responsible agency of com- 
munication as long as its programming is controlled 
by the advertisers. No newspaper would call itself 
respectable if its editorial columns were dominated 
by its advertisers and if it published advertising, in- 
formation, and discussion so mixed together that the 
reader could not tell them apart. The importance and 
validity of this recommendation seem to us so obvious 
as not to require argument. Radio is one of the most 
powerful means of communication known to man. 
With the advent of facsimile and television, it will 
become more powerful still. The public should not 

* Pp. 99-100 below. 


be forced to continue to take its radio fare from the 
manufacturers of soap, cosmetics, cigarettes, soft 
drinks, and packaged foods. 


The people of this country are the purchasers of 
the products of the press. The effectiveness of buyers' 
boycotts, even of very little ones, has been amply 
demonstrated. Many of these boycotts are the wrong 
kind for the wrong purposes; they are the work of 
pressure groups seeking to protect themselves from 
justifiable criticism or to gain some special advantage. 
The success of their efforts indicates what a revolt of 
the American people against the service given them 
by the press might accomplish. 

We are not in favor of a revolt and hope that less 
drastic means of improving the press may be em- 
ployed. We cannot tell what direction a revolt might 
take; it might lead to government control or to the 
emasculation of the First Amendment. We want the 
press to be free, and a revolt against the press con- 
ducted for the purpose of giving the country a truly 
free press might end in less freedom than we have 

What is needed, first of all, is recognition by the 
American people of the vital importance of the press 
in the present world crisisi We have the impression 
that the American people do not realize what has 
happened to them. They are not aware that the com- 


munications revolution has occurred. They do not 
appreciate the tremendous power which the new in- 
struments and the new organization of the press 
place in the hands of a few men. They have not yet 
understood how far the performance of the press falls 
short of the requirements of a free society in the 
world today. The principal object of our report is to 
make these points clear. 

If these points are clear, what can the people do 
about them? They have, or they can create, agencies 
which can be used to supplement the press, to pro- 
pose standards for its emulation, and to hold it to its 

1. We recommend that nonprofit institutions help 
supply the variety, quantity, and quality of press service 
required by the American people. 

We have indicated our belief that the agencies of 
mass communication have a responsibility to the 
public like that of educational institutions. We now 
wish to add that educational institutions have a re- 
sponsibility to the public to use the instruments em- 
ployed by the agencies of mass communications. The 
radio, the motion picture, television, and facsimile 
broadcasting are most powerful means of molding 
the minds of men. That is why we worry about their 
exclusive appropriation by agencies engaged in the 
pursuit of profit. Not that educational institutions are 
free from financial problems and the pressures as- 


sociated with them. But the nonprofit corporation 
does not exist for the purpose of making profits. It is 
peculiarly able to enlist the co-operation of all who 
are interested in the cultural development of the 
country. Hence it can render those services which 
commercial enterprise cannot offer on a profit-making 

It can restore an element of diversity to the infor- 
mation and discussion reaching the public by organ- 
izing the demand for good things and by putting out 
good things itself. A chain of libraries, schools, col- 
leges, and universities, together with the various 
religious organizations, could establish the docu- 
mentary film in mass communication. A chain of 
educational FM stations could put before the public 
the best thought of America and could make many 
present radio programs look as silly as they are. 

The business of organizing demand requires noth- 
ing but realization of the importance of the oppor- 
tunity and co-operation, to which educational insti- 
tutions are notoriously averse. The business of put- 
ting out good things requires in addition a deter- 
mined effort to acquire the professional skill that is 
needed if the efforts of nonprofit corporations are not 
to be scorned as the work of second-rate amateurs. 

We cannot believe that nonprofit institutions will 
continue to fail to grasp the opportunity they have 
before them. It has always been clear that education 
is a process which goes on through the whole of life. 


It has always been clear that, as working hours 
diminished and leisure increased, a responsibility 
devolved upon educators to help people make wise 
use of their leisure. Now a new urgency is added to 
this duty, The world seems on the brink of suicide, 
and the ultimate catastrophe can be avoided only if 
the adult citizens of today can learn how to live to- 
gether in peace. It will not be enough to educate the 
rising generation; the time is too short. The educa- 
tors have the enormous task of trying to make the 
peoples of the earth intelligent now. It is fortunate 
that as their task has grown greater and more press- 
ing, technology has given them new instruments of 
incredible range and power. 

2. We recommend the creation of academic-pro- 
fessional centers of advanced study, research, and pub- 
lication in the field of communications. We recom- 
mend further that existing schools of journalism ex- 
ploit the total resources of their universities to the end 
that their students may obtain the broadest and most 
liberal training. 

The importance of the field of communications 
does not seem to us to have been adequately recog- 
nized by the educational institutions of the country. 
We doubt that new professional or technical training 
schools should be established in this area. We do see, 
however, a need for centers of investigation, grad- 
uate study, and critical publication. These are, in 


fact, so important that without them it is unlikely 
that the professional practices and attitudes which 
we recommend to the press can ever become char- 
acteristic of the communications industry. 

Preparation for work in the press seems to us to 
require the best possible general education. It is im- 
portant that students who enter schools of journalism 
should not be deprived of liberal education because 
they have made up their minds that they want to 
work on the press. Few schools of journalism can 
develop a liberal curriculum within their own facul- 
ties. It is therefore imperative that they associate 
themselves as closely as possible with other depart- 
ments and schools of their universities. 

3. We recommend the establishment of a new and 
independent agency to appraise and report annually 
upon the performance of the press. 

The public makes itself felt by the press at the 
present time chiefly through pressure groups. These 
groups are quite as likely to have bad influence as 
good. In this field we cannot turn to government as 
the representative of the people as a whole, and we 
would not do so if we could. Yet it seems to us clear 
that some agency which reflects the ambitions of the 
American people for its press should exist for the pur- 
pose of comparing the accomplishments of the press 
with the aspirations which the people have for it. 
Such an agency would also educate the people as 


to the aspirations which they ought to have for the 

The Commission suggests that such a body be 
independent of government and of the press; that it 
be created by gifts; and that it be given a ten-year 
trial, at the end of which an audit of its achievement 
could determine anew the institutional form best 
adapted to its purposes. 

The activities of such an agency would include: 

1. Continuing efforts, through conference with 
practitioners and analysis by its staff, to help the 
press define workable standards of performance, a 
task on which our Commission has attempted a be- 

2. Pointing out the inadequacy of press service in 
certain areas and the trend toward concentration in 
others, to the end that local communities and the 
press itself may organize to supply service where it 
is lacking or to provide alternative service where the 
drift toward monopoly seems dangerous. 

3. Inquiries in areas where minority groups are 
excluded from reasonable access to the channels of 

4. Inquiries abroad regarding the picture of 
American life presented by the American press; and 
co-operation with agencies in other countries and 
with international agencies engaged in analysis of 
communication across national borders. 

5. Investigation of instances of press lying, with 


particular reference to persistent misrepresentation 
of the data required for judging public issues. 

6. Periodic appraisal of the tendencies and char- 
acteristics of the various branches of the communica- 
tions industry. 

7. Continuous appraisal of governmental action 
affecting communications. 

8. Encouragement of the establishment of centers 
of advanced study, research, and criticism in the field 
of communications at universities. 

9. Encouragement of projects which give hope of 
meeting the needs of special audiences. 

10. The widest possible publicity and public dis- 
cussion on all the foregoing. 

The above recommendations taken together give 
some indication of methods by which the press may 
become accountable and hence remain free. We be- 
lieve that if they are carried out, press performance 
will be brought much closer to the five ideal demands 
of society for the communication of news and ideas 
which were set forth in the second chapter: (1) a 
truthful, comprehensive, and intelligent account of 
the day's events in a context which gives them mean- 
ing; (2) a forum for the exchange of comment and 
criticism; (3) the projection of a representative pic- 
ture of the constituent groups in the society; (4) the 
presentation and clarification of the goals and values 
of the society; (5) full access to the day's intelli- 


Plainly, each of these five ideals will be served by 
more than one of our recommendations. Instead of 
stating those relationships in detail, we think that it 
will be more helpful to point out how the various 
recommendations will supplement each other in 
remedying some aspects of the press as it now exists 
which have constantly disturbed the members of the 
Commission during our investigation. 

The failure of radio to reach all citizens adequately 
can be relieved through the licensing policy of the 
F.C.C., while the international coverage of American 
news and opinions can be extended by various meas- 
ures proposed in Peoples Speaking to Peoples. 

Deliberate falsifications and reckless misstate- 
ments of fact will be lessened by a new legal remedy 
compelling the publication of a retraction or reply 
and, even more, by the assumption of a greater re- 
sponsibility for accuracy on the part of the press, by 
the readiness of newspapers and other agencies of 
communication to criticize one another for gross de- 
partures from truthfulness, and by periodic apprais- 
als of press accuracy issuing from a body of citizens. 

The inclination of the press to adapt most of its 
output to the supposed desires of the largest pos- 
sible number of consumers and the resulting trends 
toward sensationalism and meaninglessness can be 
reduced by similar periodical appraisals from citi- 
zens and by the initiation of new activities for the 
benefit of specialized audiences on the part of the 


press itself as well as nonprofit institutions. In the 
case of radio, the quality of output can be improved 
through organizations of listeners in the communi- 
ties and through the determination of the industry 
to take control of its programs out of the hands of 
the advertisers and their agents. 

The greatest difficulty in preserving free com- 
munications in a technical society arises from the 
concentration of power within the instruments of 
communication. The most conspicuous example of 
this is in the ownership of instrumentalities, but the 
concentration also exists in the power of advertisers, 
of labor organizations, of organized pressure groups 
all capable of impairing the free interchange of 
news and ideas, The danger is that the entire function 
of communications will fall under the control of 
fewer and fewer persons^' 

Among the consequences of this concentration, 
the output of the press reflects the bias of owners and 
denies adequate expression to important elements 
in communities. 

In order to counteract the evil effects of concen- 
tration, we have urged that newspapers and other 
agencies of mass communication regard themselves 
as common carriers of information and discussion, 
that the entry of new units into the field be facilitated, 
and that the government prevent monopolistic con- 
trol of outlets by the sources of production. 


Finally, members of the Commission were dis- 
turbed by finding that many able reporters and edi- 
torial writers displayed frustration the feeling that 
they were not allowed to do the kind of work which 
their professional ideals demanded, that they were 
unable to give the service which the community 
needs from the press, A continuation of this disturb- 
ing situation will prevent the press from discharging 
its responsibilities toward society. As remedies we 
have urged the press to use every means that can be 
devised to increase the competence and independ- 
ence of the staff, and we have urged universities and 
schools of journalism to train existing or potential 
members of the press in the exercise of judgment on 
public affairs. In many different ways the rank and 
file of the press can be developed into a genuine 

The outside forces of law and public opinion can 
in various ways check bad aspects of press perform- 
ance, but good press performance can come only 
from the human beings who operate the instrumen- 
talities of communication. 

We believe that our recommendations, taken to- 
gether, give some indication of methods by which 
the press may become accountable and, hence, re- 
main free. The urgent and perplexing issues which 
confront our country, the new dangers which en- 
compass our free society, the new f atef ulness attach- 


ing to every step in foreign policy an'd to what the 
press publishes about it, mean that the preservation 
of democracy and perhaps of civilization may now 
depend upon a free and responsible press. Such a 
press we must have if we would have progress and 












Freedom of speech and press is close to the cen- 
tral meaning of all liberty. Where men cannot freely 
convey their thoughts to one another, no other liberty 
is secure. Where freedom of expression exists, the 
germ of a free society is already present and a means 
is at hand for every extension of liberty. Free ex- 
pression is therefore unique among liberties as pro- 
tector and promoter of the others; in evidence of 
this, when a regime moves toward autocracy, speech 
and press are among the first objects of restraint or 

There are obvious reasons for bracketing freedom 
of the press with freedom of speech, as in the First 
Amendment. The press was at first hardly more than 
a means for extending the speaker's audience: the 
printed word could go far beyond the reach of his 
voice and to greater numbers and, through its dura- 

1 The definition of principle, of which this statement is a summary, is 
contained in a report entitled Freedom of the Press: A Framework of 
Principle, prepared for the Commission by one of its members, William 
Ernest Hocking. It is being published as a separate volume by the Uni- 
versity of Chicago Press. 


bility, could continue to speak at all later time. This 
space-time extension alters nothing in the relation of 
the speaker to his audience or the nature of his mes- 
sage. And while today the voice, by the aid of radio, 
is freed from its natural limitations it can reach as 
far as print, at least as many, and in far shorter time- 
it is the more evident that the two social functions 

Equally obvious are important differences be- 
tween speech and press. Speech is natural and in- 
separable from the human person, the breath of his 
social existence, and so intimate a tool of all mental 
life that without free speech thought itself could not 
be fully free. The press, by contrast, is an institution 
of developed society, a machine-using institution, 
and one whose role tends to enlarge as new instru- 
ments are devised. Extending many fold the work- 
ing environment of personal life, it creates an appe- 
tite for its own increasing services. It has done much 
to make possible the unity of large states; without 
its aid the incipient order of mankind would be in- 
conceivable. The problems it faces today are in large 
part the problems of its own achievements. It is in- 
cumbent upon us to inquire whether the traditional 
groundwork of principle which has inspired our 
existing law and our social attitudes is adequate to 
the period we now enter. 

We shall begin by analyzing the situation of the 
press within society into its elements, in order to find 


the bare essentials of the actual fact we call "the 

It will be understood that we are using the term 
"press" to include all means of communicating to 
the public news and opinions, emotions and beliefs, 
whether by newspapers, magazines, or books, by 
radio broadcasts, by television, or by films. 


When we use the phrase "freedom of the press," 
we mention but one party at interest; the term "press" 
indicates an issuer of news, opinions, etc., through 
the media which reach mass audiences. But since no 
one cares to utter news or opinions into the void, 
there must be at least one other party at interest, 
the reader or listener as consumer of news, opinions, 
etc.; we shall refer to him collectively as the audience. 

The interest of the issuer is, typically, to express 
his mind without external constraint or restraint his 
ideas and reports of events, also his feelings, judg- 
ments, protests, business proposals, appeals, visions, 

prophecies To the press, the implied audience 

is seldom visibly present or personally known; it is 
an imagined audience, and it is hopefully considered 
a representative audience. For, while it is commonly 
called "the public," it is at most a fair sample of the 
actual public. From this fragment, given freedom 
of speech, the message will spread to others and, with 
good luck, find the listeners to whom it belongs. 


The interest of the consumer is, in detail, highly 
variable and personal. Yet, in any mentally alert so- 
ciety, there is a fairly universal desire for access to a 
world of experience, thought, and feeling beyond the 
range of private observation. And also beyond the 
range of private concern, for it is the genius of the 
human animal to "take an interest" in what does not 
immediately concern him. It may be a random and 
marginal curiosity; it may amount to an insistent hun- 
ger. In any case, since the nature of the appetite is 
such that it exceeds any actual satisfaction, the issuer 
can usually count on a latent demand; he may de- 
velop a demand where none pre-exists. 

Wherever there are two parties, within a com- 
munity, there is always a third party, the community 
itself. As a social totality including all pairs of ( do- 
mestic) issuers and consumers, the community has 
a stake in the impact of all conversation, but espe- 
cially in that of speech addressed to a mass audience. 
For all communication, apart from its direct meaning, 
has an effect on the communicators, on the social 
fabric, and on the common standards which measure 
the free cohesion of the group. 


Though the issuer's interest cannot be realized 
without an audience, his interest carries with it no 
claim whatever to compel the existence of an audi- 
ence but only to invite an audience from men free not 


to listen. Freedom of the press must imply freedom 
of the consumer not to consume any particular press 
product; otherwise, the issuer's freedom could be at 
the expense of the consumer's freedom. 

As the issuer cannot compel an audience, so the 
consumer cannot compel the existence of a speaker. 
Nor does it usually occur to him that he has a claim 
upon anyone for more light and leading than is spon- 
taneously offered. The expresser is offering a gift. 
Nevertheless, the consumer is not a passive recep- 
tacle. Since the issuer cannot survive without his free 
attention, the consumer has power to encourage or 
discourage his advances. Through the consumer's 
willingness to pay fo* the successful divination of his 
appetites, he lures out the yield of thought-products; 
it is his free suffrage that builds up the great press 
and sustains a mass production in which thought and 
pseudo-thought devised for the market mix in varying 
proportions. He may go to the extent of setting up, 
with a like-minded group, a press organ to meet spe- 
cial group needs, interests, or prejudices; here the 
consumer controls, or perhaps becomes, the issuer. 
But the birth of opinion the consumer cannot con- 
trol; the genesis of thought is incurably free and in- 
dividual. For its abundance and pertinence he must 
take his chances as with the fertility of his native 
soil. He is necessarily interested in the freedom of the 
sources of opinion, because if they are unchecked 
and unwarped, even by himself, he will have, other 


things being equal, the widest and most honest offer- 
ing to select from or to piece together or to mix with 
his own thought. His interest here coincides with that 
of the issuer, actual or potential. 

Hence it is that, although there are these two direct 
interests, only one of them, in simple conditions, 
needs protection. To protect the freedom of the is- 
suer is to protect the interest of the consumer and in 
general that of the community also. Hitherto in our 
history it has been sufficient to protect the "freedom 
of the press" as the freedom of issuers. 

But, as this analysis is intended to indicate, under 
changed conditions the consumer's freedom might 
also require protection. If his need became more im- 
perative, and if at the same time the variety of sources 
available to him were limited, as by concentration of 
the press industry, his freedom not to consume partic- 
ular products of the existing press might vanish. It 
would then be no longer sufficient to protect the is- 
suer alone. This theme is resumed in Section XI be- 
low. Meantime we trace the theory in terms of the 
issuer's freedom. 


The utterance of opinion is not merely the an- 
nouncement of an "I think " It is a social force 

and is intended to be such. 

Since civilized society is a working system of ideas, 
it lives and changes by the consumption of ideas. It 


is vulnerable to every shock to the fortunes of the 
ideas it embodies. And since there is usually less 
motive for uttering ideas with which everybody and 
every institution is in accord than for uttering those 
destined to change men's minds, a significant new 
idea in the social field is likely to arouse resistance. 
The issuer will have need of protection. But of what 

Freedom of expression can never be made a cost- 
less immunity by shackling hostile response, for re- 
sponse is also expression. Free expression is destined 
not to repress social conflict but to liberate it. But its 
intention is that the level of social conflict shall be 
lifted from the plane of violence to the plane of dis- 
cussion. It should mean to the issuer that he is pro- 
tected, not from anger, contempt, suffering, the loss 
of his clientele, for in this case his critic would be 
unf ree, but from types of harm not an integral part of 
the argument or relevant to the argument (wrecking 
the issuer's shop, threatening his employees, intimi- 
dating his patrons ....). 

There are those who would define freedom of ex- 
pression as meaning no pain and no opprobrium to 
the issuer, no matter what he proposes. This ideal, if 
it is such, could be realized only in a society to which 
all ideas had become either impotent or indifferent. 
In any actual society free speech will require cour- 
age. And the first danger to free expression will 


always be the danger at the source, the timidity of 
the issuer, or his purchasability. 




The community acts, by routing social conflict 
through the ballot box, encouraging the method of 
discussion by making it a preliminary to action, and, 
then, by such traditions of self-restraint and tolera- 
tion as may exist. 

But, in the steadiest of communities, the struggle 
among ideas tends to become physical as it becomes 
prolonged; there is an incessant downtrend of debate 
toward the irrelevant exchange of punishments- 
malicious pressures, threats and bribes, broken win- 
dows and broken heads. Government is the only 
agency which, through its monopoly of physical 
force, can measurably insure that argument in speech 
and press will continue to be argument and not com- 
petitive injury. The elementary function of govern- 
ment in simply maintaining public order and the 
rights of person and property must be noted as the 
cornerstone of free expression, inasmuch as the 
cruder menaces to freedom are always from within 
the community. 

Wherever in society there is an institution, a body 
of belief or interest, an organized power good, bad, 
or mixed there is a potential (we do not say actual) 


foe of the free critic good, bad, or mixed. This po- 
tential hostility to the challenger is due not simply to 
the fact that it is easier and more natural for the ob- 
stinate vein in human nature to discourage or repress 
the critic than to meet his arguments. It is due also to 
irrational elements commonly present in the critic 
and the critic's audience. Freedom of the press to 
appeal to reason is liable to be taken as freedom to 
appeal to public passion, ignorance, prejudice, and 
mental inertia. We must not burke the fact that free- 
dom of the press is dangerous. But there is no cure 
for bad argument either in refusing to argue or in 
substituting irrelevant pressures upon, or repression 
of, the free critic for the patient attempt to reach the 
elements of reasonableness in the mass mind, as long 
as the belief persists that such elements are there. 
The only hope for democracy lies in the validity of 
this belief and in the resolute maintenance, in that 
faith, of the critic's freedom. 

The first line of defense for press freedom is gov- 
ernment, as maintaining order and personal security 
and as exercising in behalf of press freedom the avail- 
able sanctions against sabotage, blackmail, and cor- 


Any power capable of protecting freedom is also 
capable of infringing freedom. This is true both of 


the community and of government. In modern so- 
ciety the policy of government vis-a-vis the free ex- 
pression of its citizens is in peculiar need of definition. 

For every modern government, liberal or other- 
wise, has a specific position in the field of ideas; its 
stability is vulnerable to critics in proportion to their 
ability and persuasiveness. To this rule, a govern- 
ment resting on popular suffrage is no exception. On 
the contrary, just to the extent that public opinion is 
a factor in the tenure and livelihood of officials and 
parties, such a government has its own peculiar form 
of temptation to manage the ideas and images enter- 
ing public debate. 

If, then, freedom of the press is to achieve reality, 
government must set limits upon its capacity to inter- 
fere with, regulate, control, or suppress the voices of 
the press or to manipulate the data on which public 
judgment is formed. 

What we mean by a free society is chiefly one in 
which government does thus expressly limit its scope 
of action in respect to certain human liberties, name- 
ly, those liberties which belong to the normal devel- 
opment of mature men. Here belong free thought, 
free conscience, free worship, free speech, freedom 
of the person, free assembly. Freedom of the press 
takes its place with these. And all of them, together 
with some stipulations regarding property, constitute 
the burden of our bills of rights. 



If government accepts a limitation of its range of 
action in view of such interests, the reason is that 
they are not only important interests but also moral 
rights. And they are moral rights because their exer- 
cise, besides being valuable to both the citizen and 
the community, has an aspect of duty about it. 

The motives of expression are certainly not all duti- 
ful; they are and should be as multiform as human 
emotion itself, grave and gay, casual and purposeful, 
artful and idle. In a modern state all social activity, 
including the conduct of business, requires use of the 
press as well as of speech and assumes its natural 
freedom. But there is a vein of expression which has 
the added impulsion of duty, namely, the expression 
of thought and belief. If a man is burdened with an 
idea, he not only desires to express it, he ought to 
express it. The socially indispensable functions of 
criticism and appeal may be as abhorrent to the 
diffident as they are attractive to the pugnacious, but 
for neither is the issue one of wish. It is one of obliga- 
tionto the community and also to something beyond 
the community, let us say, to truth. 2 It is the duty of 

a For brevity, we shall use the concern for "truth" as token of a group 
of interests having a similar claim on expression, such as belief regard- 
ing "right," or justice of feeling, or public policy, or the advocacy of a 
legitimate personal interest. To make "truth" die symbol of all this will 
bring our discussion into close relation with the classical argument for 
freedom of expression, which has been chiefly concerned with the con- 
test of opinions in respect to truth and falsehood. "Truth" is beyond the 
state and may symbolize whatever is, in similar fashion, obligatory on 
individual and state alike. 


the scientist to his result and of Socrates to his oracle; 
but it is equally the duty of every man to his own 
belief. Because of this duty to what is beyond the 
state, freedom of speech and press are moral rights 
which the state must not infringe. 

While dutiful utterance bears the burden of the 
claim of right as against the state, that right extends 
its coverage over all legitimate expression. 

This self -limitation of the state cannot in the long 
run be contrary to the public interest. For, whatever 
its judgment of the opinions expressed, no nation can 
have a net interest in repressing the conscience of its 
citizens. On the contrary, the modern state recog- 
nizes that the citizen's conscience is a source of its 
own continued vitality. And, wherever the citizen has 
a duty of conscience, there the sovereign state has 
also a duty, namely, to that conscience of its citizen. 
Thus both its interest and its duty require the state to 
give the moral right a legal status. 

This consideration is logically prior to the tradi- 
tional ground of a free press, namely, that the un- 
hampered publication of opinion promotes the "vic- 
tory of truth over falsehood" in the public arena. 
Public discussion is indeed a necessary condition of a 
free society, and freedom of expression is a necessary 
condition of an amply furnished public discussion. It 
is not a sufficient condition, for the co-presence of a 
variety of opinions is not equivalent to debate; it may 
well be questioned whether the actual process we 
now call public discussion is functioning as the health 


of a democracy requires. In any case, it is a process 
which elicits mental power and breadth in those 
consumers whom it does not baffle or confuse; it is 
essential to building a mentally robust public; and, 
without something of the kind, no self-governing 
society could operate. But the original source of sup- 
ply for this very process is the duty of the individual 
thinker to his thought; here is the primary ground of 
his right. 

While it is not, like the right of speech, a universal 
right that every citizen should own a press or be an 
editor or have access to the clientele of any existing 
press, it is the whole point of a free press that ideas 
deserving a public hearing shall get a public hearing 
and that the decision of what ideas deserve that hear- 
ing shall rest in part with the public, not solely with 
the particular biases of editors and owners. In any 
populous community a vigorous trimming-out proc- 
ess among ideas presenting themselves for wide 
public hearing is obviously essential; but freedom of 
the press becomes a mockery unless this selective 
process is free also. This means that free speech, with 
its informal emphases, is the natural vestibule to a 
free press and that the circumstance of ownership of 
press instruments confers no privilege of deafness 
toward ideas which the normal selective processes of 
the community promote to general attention. 8 

3 It is worth noting that the Soviet Constitution, while limiting pub- 
lishable ideas within a fixed orthodoxy, undertakes within these limits 
to implement press expression for a wide segment of the people who 



If reasons can be given for a claim of right and 
there are reasons for all of them those reasons con- 
stitute the condition on which the right can be 
claimed. The absence of that condition, therefore, 
automatically removes the basis for the claim. 

By this logic, since the claim of the right of free 
expression is based on the duty of a man to his 
thought, then when this duty is ignored or rejected 
as when the issuer is a liar, an editorial prostitute 
whose political judgments can be bought, a malicious 
inflamer of unjust hatred the ground for his claim of 
right is nonexistent. In the absence of accepted moral 
duties there are no moral rights. 

It may reasonably be doubted whether any man is 
capable of a thoroughgoing repudiation of duty. His 
experiments in the rejection of good faith are likely to 
be sporadic; a single lie does not make a man a liar 
nor a single acceptance of bribe a prostitute. Further, 
if a man is stung into reckless or inflammatory speech 
by a genuine grievance which ought to be made 
known, his bedeviled utterance may contain an im- 
portant piece of truth. Still, if we define a liar as a 
man who habitually tells the truth except when it 
suits his policy to deviate, the press liar is not a myth- 

own no presses. It provides (Art. 125) that "printing presses, stocks of 
paper .... communications facilities, and other material requisites" 
shall be put at the disposal of working people and their organizations. 


ical person. His ultimate humanity and freedom he 
cannot alienate; but he has used his freedom to 
undermine his freedom. His claim of right as an 
issuer of opinion has by his own choice become 

Since all rights, moral or legal, make assumptions 
regarding the will of the claimants, there are no un- 
conditional rights. The notion of rights, costless, un- 
conditional, conferred by the Creator at birth, was a 
marvelous fighting principle against arbitrary gov- 
ernments and had its historical work to do. But in the 
context of an achieved political freedom the need of 
limitation becomes evident. The unworkable and 
invalid conception of birthrights, wholly divorced 
from the condition of duty, has tended to beget an 
arrogant type of individualism which makes a mock- 
ery of every free institution, including the press. This 
conception has concealed the sound basis of our lib- 
eral polity, the one natural right, the right to do one's 
human task. From this one right, the others can be 
derived so far as they are valid; and into this right 
the ingredient of duty is inseparably built. 


Liberty is experimental, and experiment implies 
trial and error. Debate itself could not exist unless 
wrong opinions could be rightfully offered by those 
who suppose them to be right. For social purposes, 


the cutting edge of the right of free expression is its 
demand for what is called "toleration" on the part of 
those who see, or think they see, error in others. What 
is required is something more positive than tolera- 
tionrespect for the process of self-correction as 
against any authoritatively imposed correctness. 

The assumption of this respect is that the man in 
error is actually trying for the truth; and this effort 
on his part is of the essence of his claim to freedom. 
What the moral right does not cover is a right to be 
deliberately or irresponsibly in error. 


Legal protection cannot vary with the inner fluc- 
tuations of moral direction in individual wills; it does 
not cease whenever the moral ground of right has 
been personally abandoned. It is not even desirable 
that the whole area of the responsible use of freedom 
should be made legally compulsory, even if such a 
thing were possible, for in that case free self-control, 
necessary ingredient of any free state, would be 
superseded by mechanism. 

The attempt to correct abuses of freedom, includ- 
ing press freedom, by resort to legal penalties and 
controls is the first spontaneous impulse of reform. 
But the dangers of the cure must be weighed against 
the dangers of the disease; every definition of an 
abuse invites abuse of the definition. The law might 


well be justified in acting against malicious public 
criticism; but if courts were called on to determine 
the inner corruptions of intention, honest and neces- 
sary criticism would proceed under an added peril 
and the "courage of disclosure" incur a new cost, 

Hence many a lying, venal, and scoundrelly public 
expression must continue to find shelter under a 
"freedom of the press" built for widely different ends. 
There is a practical presumption against the use of 
legal action to curb press abuse. 




The already recognized areas of legal correction 
of misused liberty in this fieldlibel, misbranding, 
obscenity, incitement to riot, sedition in case of clear 
and present danger have a common principle, 
namely, that an utterance or publication invades in 
a serious, overt, and demonstrable manner recog- 
nized private rights or vital social interests. If new 
categories of abuse come within this definition, the 
extension of legal remedies is justified. In view of 
the general presumption against legal action above 
stated, the burden of proof will rest upon those who 
would extend these categories; but the presumption 
is not intended to render society supine in the face 
of all new types of misuse, actual or possible, of the 
immense powers of the contemporary press. 


Today a further question of public responsibility 
in the use of freedom is raised in view of the extent 
to which the function of the press is affected by 
a public interest. Not only positive misdeeds but 
omissions and inadequacies of press performance 
have now a bearing on general welfare. Freedom to 
express has hitherto included freedom to refrain from 
expressing; for the press this liberty is no longer 


As observed at the beginning (Sec. I), the work 
of the press always involves the interest of the con- 
sumer; but, as long as the consumer is free, his inter- 
est is protected in the protection of the freedom of 
the issuer. Today, however, the conditions affecting 
the consumer's freedom have radically altered. 
Through concentration of ownership the flow of news 
and opinion is shaped at the sources; its variety is 
limited; and at the same time the insistence of the 
consumer's need has increased. He is dependent on 
the quality, proportion, and extent of his news supply 
not alone for his personal access to the world of 
thought and feeling but also for the materials of his 
business as a citizen in judging public affairs. With 
this situation any community in which public opinion 
is a factor in policy, domestic and international, must 
be deeply concerned. 


Clearly a qualitatively new era of public responsi- 
bility for the press has arrived; and it becomes an 
imperative question whether press performance can 
any longer be left to the unregulated initiative of the 
issuers. The moral and legal right of thinkers to utter 
their opinions must in any case remain intact; this 
right stands for the kernel of individualism at the 
heart of all free social life. But the element of duty 
involved in the right requires a new scrutiny. And 
the service of news, as distinct from the utterance of 
opinion, acquires an added importance. The need of 
the consumer to have adequate and uncontaminated 
mental food is such that he is under a duty to get it; 
and, because of this duty, his interest acquires the 
stature of a right. It becomes legitimate to speak 
of the moral right of men to the news they can use. 

Since the consumer is no longer free not to con- 
sume, and can get what he requires only through ex- 
isting press organs, protection of the freedom of the 
issuer is no longer sufficient to protect automatically 
either the consumer or the community. The general 
policy of laissez faire in this field must be recon- 


The press today, as the Supreme Court has recently 
recognized in the case of news services, has respon- 
sibilities to the general spread of information which 


present analogies to those of a common carrier or of 
a trustee, though the likeness in either of these cases 
is limited. The analogy is closer to an educational 
enterprise in which private schools, enjoying the ad- 
vantages and risks of experimental initiative, are yet 
performing a necessary public function for which a 
measure of social accountability would be appropri- 
ate. Do these analogies suggest that for the press also 
some degree of public oversight and co-operation 
and possibly of regulation must be the way of the 

An over-all social responsibility for the quality of 
press service to the citizen cannot be escaped; the 
community cannot wholly delegate to any other 
agency the ultimate responsibility for a function in 
which its own existence as a free society may be 
at stake. 

At the same time, the main positive energy for the 
improvement of press achievement must come from 
the issuers. Although the standards of press perform- 
ance arise as much from the public situation and need 
as from the conscious goals of the press, these stand- 
ards must be administered by the press itself. This 
means that the press must now take on the commu- 
nity's press objectives as its own objectives. And for 
the correction of abuses the maxim holds good that 
self-correction is better than outside correction, so 
long as self -correction holds out a reasonable and 


realistic hope, as distinct from lip service to piously 
framed paper codes. 

How shall this realism be implemented? And how 
shall the objectives of the press be held to identity 
with the necessary objectives of the community? By 
a recognition on the part of the press that, while its 
enterprise is and should remain a private business, 
its efforts to define and realize its standards are also 
a community concern and should be systematically 
associated with corresponding efforts of community, 
consumers, and government. 

With those of consumers and community, acting 
through specialized organs, as responsible critic, gad- 
fly, and source of incentive. 

With those of government in various ways whose 
principles we may indicate as follows: 

1. Without intruding on press activities, govern- 
ment may act to improve the conditions under which 
they take place so that the public interest is better 
servedas by making distribution more universal 
and equable, removing hindrances to the free flow of 
ideas, reducing confusion and promoting the reality 
of public debate. 4 

2. New legal remedies and preventions are not to 
be excluded as aids to checking the more patent 
abuses of the press, under the precautions we have 
emphasized. Such legal measures are not in their 

* Further illustrations under this head may be found in Hocking, 
Freedom of the Press: A Framework of Principle ( University of Chicago 
Press ) . 


nature subtractions from freedom but, like laws 
which help to clear the highways of drunken drivers, 
are means of increasing freedom, through removing 
impediments to the practice and repute of the honest 

3. Government may and should enter the field of 
press comment and news supply, not as displacing 
private enterprise, but as a supplementary source. 
In so doing, it may present standards for private 
emulation. While in our experience a democratic 
government is one in which government itself is one 
of the main objects of public discussion and can 
therefore never be allowed to control or to regulate 
the debate, it is not inconceivable that a government 
by the people should also be a powerful instrument 
for the people, in respect to educational and other 
noncommercial possibilities of the developing press. 


The emerging conception of freedom of the press 
may be summarized as follows: 

As with all freedom, press freedom means freedom 
from and also freedom for. 

A free press is free from compulsions from what- 
ever source, governmental or social, external or in- 
ternal. From compulsions, not from pressures; for no 
press can be free from pressures except in a mori- 
bund society empty of contending forces and beliefs, 


These pressures, however, if they are persistent and 
distorting as financial, clerical, popular, institutional 
pressures may become approach compulsions; and 
something is then lost from effective freedom which 
the press and its public must unite to restore. 

A free press is free for the expression of opinion in 
all its phases. It is free for the achievement of those 
goals of press service on which its own ideals and 
the requirements of the community combine and 
which existing techniques make possible. For these 
ends it must have full command of technical re- 
sources, financial strength, reasonable access to 
sources of information at home and abroad, and the 
necessary facilities for bringing information to the 
national market. The press must grow to the meas- 
ure of this market. 

For the press there is a third aspect of freedom. 
The free press must be free to all who have something 
worth saying to the public, since the essential object 
for which a free press is valued is that ideas deserving 
a public hearing shall have a public hearing. 


1. These several factors of an ideal press freedom 
are to some extent incompatible with one another. 

A press which has grown to the measure of the 
national market and to the full use of technical re- 
sources can hardly be free from internal compulsions. 
The major part of the nation's press is large-scale 


enterprise, closely interlocked with the system of fi- 
nance and industry; it will not without effort escape 
the natural bias of what it is. Yet, if freedom is to re- 
main secure, this bias must be known and overcome. 

Again, the growth of the press acts together with 
the growth of the nation to make more remote the 
ideal that every voice shall have the hearing it de- 
serves. Concentration of power substitutes one con- 
trolling policy for many independent policies, lessens 
the number of major competitors, and renders less 
operative the claims of potential issuers who have 
no press. For this clash there is no perfect remedy. 
There is relief, to the extent that the wider press, 
somewhat as a common carrier, assumes responsi- 
bility for representing variant facets of opinion. But 
no listening devices of the human mind have yet 
secured us from a certain wastage of human genius 
as the scale of a nation's thinking enlarges; and the 
contemporary arts of what is called publicity can 
hardly be acquitted of aiming rather at further lens 
distortion than at just and proportionate recognition 
of worth. As commercial arts it is hard to see how 
they can make justice their supreme object. 

2. There is an antithesis between the current con- 
ception of the freedom of the press and the account- 
ability of the press. 

Accountability, like subjection to law, is not neces- 
sarily a net subtraction from liberty; the affirmative 
factor of freedom, freedom for, may be enhanced. 


But the liberty to be carefree is gone. Charles Beard 
could say with accuracy that "in its origin, freedom 
of the press had little or nothing to do with truth 
telling .... most of the early newspapers were par- 
tisan sheets devoted to savage attacks on party op- 
ponents Freedom of the press means the right 

to be just or unjust, partisan or non-partisan, true or 
false, in news column or editorial column/' 5 Today, 
this former legal privilege wears the aspect of social 
irresponsibility. The press must know that its faults 
and errors have ceased to be private vagaries and 
have become public dangers. Its inadequacies men- 
ace the balance of public opinion. It has lost the 
common and ancient human liberty to be deficient 
in its function or to offer half-truth for the whole. 

The situation approaches a dilemma. The press 
must remain private and free, ergo human and fal- 
lible; but the press dare no longer indulge in fallibil- 
ityit must supply the public need. Here, again, 
there is no perfect solution. But the important thing 
is that the press accept the public standard and try 
for it. The legal right will stand if the moral right is 
realized or tolerably approximated. There is a point 
beyond which failure to realize the moral right will 
entail encroachment by the state upon the existing 
legal right. 

5 St. Louis Post-Dispatch Symposium on Freedom of the Press, 1938, 
p. 13. 



A free press is not a passing goal of human society; 
it is a necessary goal. For the press, taken in sum, is 
the swift self-expression of the experience of each 
moment of history; and this expression ought to be 
true. Much of the content of the press is intended 
solely for its own day; and the journalist sometimes 
reflects that his art is one of improvisation, and that 
its products, being destined to pass with the interest 
of the moment, require no great care in their work- 
manship. Yet, just because it is the day's report of 
itself, it is the permanent word of that day to all other 
days. The press must be free because its freedom is 
a condition of its veracity, and its veracity is its good 
faith with the total record of the human spirit. 

At the same time, freedom of the press is certainly 
not an isolated value, nor can it mean the same in 
every society and at all times. It is a function within 
a society and must vary with the social context. It 
will be different in times of general security and in 
times of crisis; it will be different under varying states 
of public emotion and belief. 

The freedom we have been examining has assumed 
a type of public mentality which may seem to us 
standard and universal, but which is, in many re- 
spects, a product of our special history a mentality 
accustomed to the noise and confusion of clashing 
opinions and reasonably stable in temper when the 


fortunes of ideas are swiftly altered. But what a mind 
does with a fact or an opinion is widely different 
when that mind is serene and when it is anxious; 
when it has confidence in its environment and when 
it is infected with suspicion or resentment; when it 
is gullible and when it is well furnished with the 
means of criticism; when it has hope and when it 
is in despair. 

Further, the consumer is a different man when he 
lias to judge his press alone and when his judgment 
is steadied by other social agencies. Free and diverse 
utterance may result in bewilderment unless he has 
access through home, church, school, customto in- 
terpreting patterns of thought and feeling. There is 
no such thing as press "objectivity" unless the mind 
of the reader can identify the objects dealt with. 

Whether at any time and place the psychological 
conditions exist under which a free press has social 
significance is always a question of fact, not of theory. 
These mental conditions may be lost. They may also 
be created. The press itself is always one of the chief 
agents in destroying or in building the bases of its 
own significance. 









The following special studies ( referred to in the 
Foreword ) made for the Commission have been pub- 
lished, or are now in process of publication, by the 
University of Chicago Press: 

1. Freedom of the Press: A Framework of Principle. By 
WILLIAM ERNEST HOCKING, professor of philosophy, emer- 
itus, Harvard University. 

We have had "freedom of the press" as a proud institution 
for a century and a half; England has had something similar 
for just three hundred years. During that period we have had 
much experience as to how the institution works. And there 
have been immense changes both in the power and reach of 
the press and in the dependence of the public mind on what 
the press (including radio, film, television, etc.) hands out. 
Have these changes and this experience altered in any way 
the meaning and value of this particular freedom? 

If facts have no influence on principles, the answer is 
"No." This book takes an opposite view. It holds that prin- 
ciples are important and have a certain permanent element; 
but it also holds that a re-examination of the whole press 
situation in respect to its guiding ideas is made imperative 
by the present state of the world and of our society. We can 
neither be content merely to mutter "freedom of the press" 
as a defense against every proposal for responsibility or re- 
form nor be oblivious of the fact that elsewhere in the world 
press freedom is not alone widely restricted but subject to 
keen critical attack as to its social validity in its unlimited 


This book takes pains to be thorough; it examines liberty 
in general before getting into this special phase of liberty. 
Some readers will find it too thorough. Its style is tough. It is 
as juicy as a steel rail, and it is divided into sections like a 
barbed- wire fence, offering the wayfarer similar inducements 
to repose, but only at the joints of the argument. Readers 
who do not care to try a hard job of thinking are advised 
to look elsewhere. 

On the other hand, the author is not writing a set of ab- 
stractions or deductions from the a priori. He not alone 
considers history in the large, and the social relativities proper 
to every great ideal, but speaks from a sympathetic acquaint- 
ance with press work, having himself been on all sides of 
the desk. It is the living press of today and tomorrow for 
which he seeks guiding ideas. 

Various members of the Commission, in appended notes, 
have carried on discussions with the author of points where 
divergence of viewpoint on specific sections of the analysis 

2. Government and Mass Communications, By ZECHABIAH 
CHAFEE, JR., professor of law, Harvard University. 

An extensive analysis of the threefold relation of govern- 
ment to mass communication: (1) the use of governmental 
power to limit or to suppress discussion, (2) affirmative gov- 
ernmental action to encourage better and more extensive 
communication, and (3) government as a party to communi- 

The volume covers the whole field of governmental and 
legal regulation of the press under peacetime conditions, 
with special attention to certain areas where proposals are 
currently made to alter existing statutory, judicial, or admin- 
istrative practice. These include libel and compulsory cor- 
rection of published errors, post-office mail-exclusion orders 
and denial of second-class privileges, compulsory disclosure 
of source, laws requiring collective bargaining, and antitrust 


statutes as applied to the press industries. The author's rec- 
ommendation regarding many of these problems is included. 
A special section reviewing the war experience with regard 
to government as a dispenser of information at home and 
abroad, with an analysis of the desirable scope of this func- 
tion in time of peace, is included. 

3. Peoples Speaking to Peoples. By LLEWELLYN WHITE, as- 
sistant director, and ROBERT D. LEIGH, director of the 
Commission. Chicago, 1946. 

An extensive analysis of international mass communication. 
Based upon a threefold Commission program of ( 1 ) improv- 
ing physical transmission facilities, (2) lessening political 
and economic restrictions on the free flow of words and 
images across borders, and (3) improving the accuracy, rep- 
resentative character, and quality of the words and images 
transmitted, the authors review the development of the phys- 
ical instruments and processes in international communica- 
tion, including the newer facilities of voice, dot-dash and 
facsimile broadcast radio transmission, the organization of 
press associations, and of books and periodicals in the inter- 
national field. They analyze proposals for merger of tele- 
communication facilities, for multilateral and bilateral 
treaties designed to reduce barriers and to promote freer 
access to information, for export federations in books and 
the voice broadcasting fields, for international agencies to 
regulate physical transmission, to lessen political and eco- 
nomic restrictions on information, and to inquire into viola- 
tions of free press treaties. They make specific recommenda- 
tions in relation to each of these matters and propose a related 
government-industry program to guarantee that the whole 
field of communication between peoples will be adequately 


4. Freedom of the Movies. By RUTH A. INGLIS, of the research 
staff, Commission on Freedom of the Press; assistant pro- 
fessor of sociology, University of Washington. Chicago, 

Freedom of the Movies is a study of self -regulation, Holly- 
wood's own means of controlling the content of films as they 
are produced. The purpose of self -regulation is to prevent 
cuts and rejections by the half-dozen state and many munici- 
pal censor boards and to avoid trouble with moralistic and 
other pressure groups. The principles and rules of the Pro- 
duction Code and its administration by the Johnson Office 
(long the Hays Office) are described fully in the book so 
that the reader may ponder them for himself. 

Having studied self -regulation in the light of the growing 
criticism of the movies on the ground that they are silly, 
insignificant, and lacking in artistic integrity, the author 
offers concrete suggestions for achieving a vital screen which 
at the same time is not obscene or indecent. The author's 
specific proposals for the improvement of self -regulation will 
command the attention of those who have felt that the movies 
have been too sensitive to certain segments of the community 
and unmindful of certain nonreligious social values. 

5. The American Radio. By LLEWELLYN WHITE, assistant 
director of the Commission on Freedom of the Press. 

A story of radio's first quarter-century its amazing phys- 
ical growth, its economic and artistic development, its attempt 
to regulate itself, the government's attempt to regulate it, 
the consumer's attitude toward it. The author applies to the 
broadcasting industry the yardstick of accountability for per- 
forming an important intelligence function, defines the points 
of defect, and makes definite proposals for improvement 
which take account of the technological developments now 
on the way or on the horizon. 


6. The American Press and the San Francisco Conference. 
By MILTON D. STEWART. With an Introduction by HAROLD 
D. LASS WELL, professor of law, Yale University. 

A systematic study, on a comparative basis, of the treat- 
ment given the San Francisco Conference by the general 
newspaper and periodical press, press associations, radio, 
films, and special-group publications. The need for a positive 
as well as a negative conception of freedom is discussed, and 
standards are proposed as an essential tool for gauging the 
freedom and the accountability of the press in actual opera- 
tion. This is followed by statistical summaries and examples 
of the levels of performance reached in covering the first 
United Nations conference by about seventy daily news- 
papers, forty general magazines, the four major radio net- 
works, the five leading newsreels, and several hundred group 
publications. Comparisons of achievement within each 
medium and among the media are made. 

IN usxj